This story was created in partnership with the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship.
What does it take to revive a historic building in small-town Pennsylvania? What goes into transforming a local landmark into a high-tech, energy-efficient space where entrepreneurs can innovate and elevate their businesses?
Ask the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship — the organization recently unveiled its PA Wilds Media Lab on North Fraley Street in Kane, PA. The ambitious project took five years of planning and construction between the initial concept and the grand opening. There were plenty of surprises along the way, including a global pandemic, interrupted supply chains, a falling ceiling and more.
On September 26, 2023, The PA Wilds Media Lab debuted with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by government officials and partners who helped make the project a reality. That included Joe and Andrea Lanich, co-owners of Laughing Owl Press and the Broadbent Stiteler Building, located at 59-61 North Fraley Street. The collaboration between the Center, a nonprofit, and Laughing Owl, a private business, was a win-win.
“We wanted to stay on Fraley Street here in Kane so we could be involved in the community and also help with the restoration of one of these buildings,” says Joe Lanich. “A lot of these buildings are falling into disrepair, and we’re so proud that we could purchase it and make sure that it’s around for future generations.”
“We finished the first floor, but we couldn’t even wrap our heads around how we could refurbish the other two floors until we could partner with someone to take things to the next level,” he continues. “When PA Wilds was talking about getting a physical location, we decided we could give them a free lease and then use the renovation work as collateral so we could get funds to redo the roof and windows, and add a new HVAC unit on our first floor.”
Located on the second floor, the PA Wilds Media Lab is one of the first brick-and-mortar facilities operated by the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. The nonprofit is charged with coordinating a regional strategy to promote the 13-county region and its tremendous public land base as a premier outdoor recreation destination. The ultimate goal is to stimulate and revitalize rural economies.
The site of the Media Lab was chosen due to its proximity to key leadership staff as well as the PA Wilds Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge State Park. The renovation also serves as an energy-efficiency model for similar enhancements in rural downtowns across the PA Wilds and beyond.
“We felt very strongly that we should place the Media Lab on the second floor of an older Main Street-style building,” explains Ta Enos, founder and CEO at PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc. “We could not be leading a regional revitalization effort and not know at some bone-deep level what it is actually like to bring one of these buildings back to life.”
Keeping it local
Renovations on the 5,000-square-foot space began in earnest in April 2019, when a Request for Proposals seeking a construction firm was issued. J.A. Luciano & Sons Builders of Bradford was selected for the project. Work began in December 2019; however, workforce and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic delayed the project’s construction timeline and opening.
The PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship, 2nd Edition, and the PA Wilds Brand Principles were guiding documents for the project. Locally harvested materials and locally crafted furniture and infrastructure were used whenever possible. This not only creates deeper local economic impact, but also helps retain the region’s unique character and heritage.
We could not be leading a regional revitalization effort and not know at some bone-deep level what it is actually like to bring one of these buildings back to life.Ta Enos, founder and CEO at PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc.
“This building is authentic to the PA Wilds experience,” says Enos. “The amount of wood used in the design speaks to our lumber heritage. Allegheny Hardwoods Utilization Group helped us secure donations from several timber companies in the region. You’ll see native trees used in the flooring, trims and windowsills. Local woodcrafters used the Design Guide as inspiration to create live-edge tables and the reception desk. In our audio/visual studio, you’ll find salvaged furniture that was brought back to life by a local shop.”
Artisans involved in making or refurbishing Media Lab furniture and infrastructure are based across the region and are all members of the Wilds Cooperative of PA network. Makers include Joe Feikls of Joe’s Prop Shop in McKean County, who completed most of the finishing and trim work in the space; Kevin Murphy of Shindig Alley in Centre County, who refurbished a mid-century modern piece for the audio-visual room; Rafaelle Colone of Woodrich in Lycoming County, who crafted a one-of-a-kind table for the space; and Jason Lorenzo of Frog Dog Slabs of McKean County, who made the natural wood slabs for the main office desks.
The Media Lab is also incredibly energy efficient.
“Once we secured a space, we knew that tackling energy efficiency was going to be a major challenge,” recalls Enos. “We teamed up with the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF).”
An investment by WPPSEF provided funding for the necessary improvements. Large, well-insulated windows allow for a beautiful view of uptown Kane and plenty of natural light, which reduces the need for lighting usage during the day. Even when the lights are turned on, they use less power through their energy-efficient standards. Upgraded insulation in the walls and roof mean the HVAC systems require less energy to heat or cool the building, minimizing the environmental impact. It’s also less expensive, which is a benefit not just to the PA Wilds Center but also to Laughing Owl Press downstairs.
“After these improvements, our HVAC costs on the first floor were roughly 50 to 60 percent of what they had been the previous year,” says Joe Lanich. “It was significant for our business.”
“And it was so much more comfortable,” adds Andrea Lanich.
WPPSEF also supported the renovation of the building next door to the Media Lab, now called Six&Kane. 63 North Fraley Street was renovated to the Passive House “EnerPHit Plus” standard of energy efficiency, which reduces the building’s energy footprint and allows for ultra-low energy use related to heating and cooling. The project transformed a vacant three-story masonry building that was originally constructed in 1897 into a green showcase housing a coffee bar, a local economic development organization, and workshop spaces that can serve the growing community. The investment has garnered international recognition as the first commercial retrofit of an older Main Street building to Passive House EnerPHit standards in the United States.
Because these investments were happening at the same time in adjoining buildings, it provided the opportunity for the PA Wilds Center to come up with creative solutions. The shared goals between the two projects goe beyond energy efficiency to accessibility.
For example, although the main entry to the PA Wilds Media Lab is at 61 N. Fraley St., access to the space is also available via the adjacent Six&Kane building. The buildings connect to each other through a stairwell and a shared elevator thanks to an investment by WPPSEF.
“Elevators are not common to these old downtown buildings, but it was important to us that this space be accessible to all people,” says Enos. “We were fortunate to have WPPSEF as a partner that was interested in overcoming the same obstacle next door. We worked closely with them to ensure access to the Media Lab as well. This offers an example for how building owners can collaborate to offer shared accessibility to their upper floors and to create even more economic opportunities for those spaces.”
Learn more about the energy efficiency story here.
A regional resource
The PA Wilds Media Lab features tools, technologies and classroom space to support the nonprofit’s expanding “entrepreneurial ecosystem” — a network of nonprofits and small businesses, a branded commerce platform, and regional marketing — and its regional partnership work. For example, the site includes audio-visual tools, a product photography room, workshop space and more. Artisans, small business owners and organizations who are participating in the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a free network that brings together and uplifts Pennsylvania Wilds stakeholders, will be able to utilize these resources and learn from each other in this space.
The PA Wilds Center contracted with Sixty Foot Films to document the construction process via photographs and video. These materials will be woven together and featured in an interpretive display in the main entry to the PA Wilds Media Lab.
The PA Wilds Media Lab renovations, technology, and exhibits were made possible by financial investments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund (WPPSEF), PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, PA Council on the Arts, Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Collins Companies Foundation, North Central PA Regional Planning and Development Commission, U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Northwest Bank Charitable Foundation, The Conservation Fund, and the building owners, the Laughing Owl Press, as well as in-kind donations from Envinity Inc., timber donations through the Allegheny Hardwoods Utilization Group, and many volunteer hours donated by creative entrepreneurs and organizations participating in the ecosystem.
Although the Media Lab is open, the work will continue to ensure it is an effective space for the area’s entrepreneurs.
The Media Lab is accessible by appointment during normal business hours Monday through Thursday for a nominal fee based on services selected. A reservation system for WCO members using the space is available at WildsCoPA.org/media-lab/.
BRITT MADERA is communication manager for the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship where she helps tell the stories that make the region so unique, whether that is covering our beautiful landscapes, the innovative businesses, or the spunky people that call it home. She had worked the last 10 years in radio and news broadcasting. As someone who grew up in Clearfield County and moved back shortly after college, Britt is eager to share her passion for the PA Wilds and help our area grow and shine.
ABOUT THE PA WILDS
The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes the counties of Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Inc., is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to integrate conservation and economic development in a way that inspires the communities of the Pennsylvania Wilds. The PA Wilds Center promotes the region and its 2+ million acres of public lands as a premier outdoor recreation destination as a way to diversify local economies, inspire stewardship, attract investment, retain population and improve quality of life. The PA Wilds Center’s core programs seek to help businesses leverage the PA Wilds brand and connect with new market opportunities, including: the Wilds Cooperative of PA, a network of more than 575 place-based businesses and organizations, and the PA Wilds Conservation Shop, a retail outlet primarily featuring products sourced from the WCO. For more information on the PA Wilds Center, visit www.PAWildsCenter.org. To learn more about the WCO, visit www.WildsCoPA.org. Explore the PA Wilds at www.PAWilds.com. Find regionally made products at www.ShopThePAWilds.com.