Union City Historic Preservation Plan

2020 Greater Erie Award for Planning

Preservation Erie is pleased to award a 2020 Greater Erie Award to Union City Borough in the category of Planning for the creation of the Union City Historic Preservation Plan

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.

During the last three years, Union City Borough, has emerged as an outstanding leader in the effort to preserve and revitalize the borough’s downtown commercial district.

In 2018, Union City was awarded a Keystone Historic Preservation Planning Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA), the Union City Community Foundation and Union City Borough provided additional funding. The borough and Union City Pride/Downtown Development provided oversight for the development of the plan, with Preservation Erie offering technical assistance.

Completed in late 2019, the plan includes voluntary design guidelines and façade improvement plans for 19 commercial buildings in downtown. These mixed-used structures, two- to three-stories, date to the late 19th and early 20th Century, and are located within a 0.2-mile portion of Main Street. This corridor is located within the PA US Route 6 Heritage Area and the Union City Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The borough has awarded just under $50,000 in façade grants, generating nearly $100,000 in improvements in the downtown corridor. Funding for the façade grant program is in place through 2022, so additional investments will be made over the next two years. The design guidelines and façade improvement plans in the Union City Historic Preservation Plan are tied to this funding program to act as an incentive to implement the plan.

The following projects are in-process.

City Studio, part of the consulting team hired to create the Union City Historic Preservation Plan, is currently developing structural and interior assessments for 19 historic structures in the downtown. Implementation of the recommendations outlined in the assessments will be incentivized through a new funding program, the Interior/Structural Improvement Grant Program, set to launch in 2020 following completion of all 19 assessments.

Union City Borough has received funding to create and install a mural on a prominent south-facing wall at the southern entryway into downtown Union City. The mural design will be developed with public input and celebrate the culture of Union City. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Union City Pride, a community revitalization organization with a mission to restore pride in and celebrate the heritage of the Union City, in partnership with Union City Borough, has received funding to develop a plan for a gateway at downtown’s north entrance. In February, Bostwick Design was contracted to engage the community in developing conceptual drawings and cost estimates for improvements to Union City’s Downtown Gateway, located adjacent to the intersection of North Main Street (U.S. Route 6 and Route 8) and East/West High Streets. The project site includes the triangular Industrial Park, Union City Dinor, Ohrn Building, stairway leading to a municipal parking lot, and corner sidewalk located in front of Ace Hardware. The planning project is scheduled for completion in 2020.

The borough’s efforts help to move forward recommendations from both the 2017 Erie County Cultural Heritage Plan and the PA Route 6 Alliance Historic Conservation Strategy.

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.

The strategy to focus on Union City’s historic assets actually has a long history itself. In 1990, the Union City Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district’s footprint includes the commercial district, residential neighborhoods, and institutional and manufacturing buildings. This Historic Preservation Plan focuses on the historic commercial district on Main Street and a small portion of West High Street.

The Historic Preservation Plan is a voluntary document that contains design guidelines for the district and for buildings in the district, as well as façade improvement plans for specific properties in the historic commercial district. The recommendations provide guidance for property owners, the borough, nonprofits, business owners, architects, landscape architects, planners and engineers.

The project committee and consultant team of CityStudio, T&B Planning, and architect Milton Ogot, all of Pittsburgh, received public input during three public meetings throughout the plan’s development, one-on-one consultations with property owners selected for a façade improvement plan, and a final draft review period that gathered public feedback.

The plan was completed in the fall of 2019. Union City Borough Council approved it as an official reference document on April 14, 2020. The plan identifies the architectural and environmental features that make Union City unique and describes ways to maintain its one-of-a-kind features.

Union City’s historic district contains many distinct historic buildings and some newer buildings. Most of the district’s historic buildings need standard maintenance. Some buildings have undergone structural and cosmetic alterations, and some of the more recently constructed buildings do not blend into the character of the historic district.

The Historic Preservation Plan’s goal is to help unify the district and enhance the overall character of the commercial core of Union City’s historic district. The authentic character of the historic district is a physical example of Union City’s community and developmental histories.

The plan also identifies ways to attract new businesses and visitors to the community, while improving the quality of life for current residents. The plan focuses on the downtown commercial core and addresses public open space, parking, street amenities, signage, lighting, building maintenance and new construction.   Improving the cohesiveness and maintaining the historic features ensures that future generations will visually understand and experience the story of Union City’s development and people.

Downtown Union City, n.d. From the collections of the Union City Historical Society.

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