WEBINAR RECAP: Save It! Start It! Build It!: How to Access American Rescue Plan Funds for Historic Preservation & Economic Development

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) offers a historic opportunity for counties and local municipalities to invest in local projects, programs and organizations. This webinar recording explains why and how you can find funding for historic preservation and economic redevelopment projects in your community with community examples. Presented by Pennsylvania Downtown Center and Preservation Pennsylvania.

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This webinar was originally presented on April 20, 2022. Thank you to our Zoom Webinar Feature Sponsors, Margaret and Bob Wallis!

As the video presentation disclaimer states, these presentations are based on these individuals’ personal interpretation of the American Rescue Plan Act as private citizens. They are sharing their knowledge as a starting place for your own research and initiative. For the full list of guidelines, refer to the U.S. Treasury’s Final Rule, fact sheet, and FAQs on their website.

U.S. Treasury website: American Rescue Plan Fact Sheet 

U.S. Treasury website: Final Rule info and Final Rule pdf

In March 2022, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was signed into law, including $350 billion of flexible local recovery funding distributed to states, counties, and cities. (Read more at MainStreet.org). Let’s explore the opportunities for funding. (View the webinar on YouTube.)

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Key Takeaways

How can funds be used?

The funds are meant to aid in recovery from COVID. Unlike funding provided under the CARES Act,

US Treasury Guidance on the Final Rule: “Recipients also have broad flexibility to identify and respond to other pandemic impacts and serve other populations that experienced pandemic impacts, beyond the enumerated uses.” The interim final rule contains similar language.

Equitable Investment

Strategic investment in downtowns and heritage can help address racial and socio- demographic disparities. One of the priorities highlighted in the Rescue Act is to ensure funds reach historically-disadvantaged communities. Most, if not all, Main Streets and BIDs were created to catalyze investment in census tracts that have experienced decades of disinvestment and directly support the businesses that are providing jobs, tax revenue, and vitality to underserved communities.

US Treasury: “Recipients can identify other populations or groups, beyond those presumed eligible that experienced pandemic impacts or disproportionate impacts….Recipients may identify classes of households, communities, small businesses, nonprofits, or populations that have experienced a disproportionate impact based on academic research or government research publications, through analysis of their own data, or through analysis of other existing data sources….To augment their analysis, or when quantitative data is not readily available, recipients may also consider qualitative research and sources like resident interviews or feedback from relevant state and local agencies.”

What specific ways can the funds be spent?

View a user-friendly overview of the major provisions of the final rule.

This is a non-exclusive list of potential uses for your county or municipality to consider.

  • Capital projects (or rehabilitation of existing facilities) directly aimed at restarting or catalyzing a downtown
    economy or heritage tourism
  • Physical alterations of facilities to accommodate social distancing, hybrid programming, outdoor programming, or other adaptations to respond to the COVID pandemic or prepare for future pandemics
  • Funding of operational or programmatic funding reduced or eliminated due to lost municipal revenue (including municipal contracts or internal funding for HARBS and other preservation needs)
  • Infrastructure projects, such as stormwater improvements, water quality projects, and broadband expansion—or programming to advance such projects
  • Or, cultural or interpretive approaches to engaging the public in public works projects
  • Direct allocations to non-profit organizations, such as the following, to aid in their recovery and enhance their ability to provide normal operations:

+ Main Streets and Business Improvement Districts
+ Heritage, arts and culture organizations (of any size)
+ Libraries, museums and archives; music and performing arts venues
+ Local and regional heritage, arts and culture commissions
+ Heritage tourism organizations, historic sites and National and State Heritage Areas
+ DCNR-designated Conservation Landscape

  • Create competitive grant programs for a variety of non-profits and allow the above organizations to apply—or prioritize preservation and revitalization organizations within broader competitive grant programs
  • Provide funding to regional Tourism Promotion Agencies, Destination Marketing Organizations, or Convention and Visitors Bureaus and require that a portion of funds be reserved for specific uses

Note that specific rules exist for capital expenditures. For allocations under $1 million, the project must be consistent with the rule but no written justification is necessary. For projects of more than $1 million, written justification is necessary as part of regular reporting. “Written justification” means describing why your project is an eligible use and consistent with your community’s pandemic recovery strategy

Note that all organizations receiving direct allocations and competitive grants must still adhere to the Rescue Act Funds

What should you do—right now?

  • Review the U.S. Treasury guidelines to see if your project qualifies.
  • Reach out to your county or municipal leadership now! Or, if you are the leadership, consider these uses as a priority in your recovery and reach out to heritage and revitalization community to learn about their needs.
  • Reach out to your municipal manager, council, supervisors, county commissioners, administrator, or executive to learn what process your county or municipality is using to allocate funds
  • Submit a formal letter to your county or municipality to request funds, documenting your anticipated needs and making your case for why your project or program is important
  • Share this presentation with your county or municipal leadership to show that arts and culture are eligible for funding
  • Tie your work to economic development, business growth, tourism, and infrastructure. For better or worse, those concepts resonate with policymakers and are specifically included in the US Treasury guidance.
  • Don’t take “no” as the (first) answer.

Get Silas Chamberlin’s presentation pdf

Wearing a blue shirt and blue blazer, a bearded man smiles at the camera
Silas Chamberlin, PhD is the Vice President of Economic & Community Development for the York County Economic Alliance. He will provide an overview of ARPA, funding allocations, what type of projects are eligible and how to access funding.

Our Presenter

Silas Chamberlin, PhD., Vice President of Economic & Community Development for the York County Economic Alliance. will provide an overview of ARPA, funding allocations, what type of projects are eligible and how to access funding. Silas is vice president of economic and community development at the York County Economic Alliance, a position in which he serves as executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the County of York overseeing a variety of economic financing, business attraction, entrepreneurship, and workforce development initiatives. On behalf of the York County Commissioners, Silas leads the YoCo Strong Recovery Task Force, which has advised the county on the allocation of $132 million in federal recovery funds and the YoCo Fiber Broadband Task Force, which is advancing a $27 million investment in countywide broadband.

He previously served as CEO of Downtown Inc, executive director of the Schuylkill River National Heritage Area, and as a regional advisor with the PA Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. He is currently an adjunct professor of economics and urban revitalization at York College and serves on the board of the PA Downtown Center. Silas holds a PhD in environmental history from Lehigh University and a certificate in commercial real estate development from Cornell University. He is the author of On the Trail: A History of American Hiking, published by Yale University Press in 2016.


Our Panelists

We’ll also hear from Larry Newman, Executive Director of the Diamond City Partnership (Wilkes-Barre) about efforts to access funding at the county and municipal levels for business district recovery.

Get Larry Newman’s presentation pdf

Emily Fetcko from the Erie Downtown Partnership and Melinda Meyer, ARPA administrator for Erie County and a member of the City of Erie Historic Review Commission will discuss plans for using ARPA funds in Erie to advance the historic preservation mission.

Get Melinda Meyer’s presentation pdf


In the comments, tell us how you think these funds could be used for revitalization and preservation projects in your community.