Pennsylvania officials have approved an $8 million grant to refurbish the stone-and-brick First Bank of the United States building in Old City and reopen it as a museum commemorating the central bank started by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton when Philadelphia was the nation's capital.
The award to the Independence Historical Trust, a nonprofit that raises money for Independence National Historical Park, makes it the state's biggest recipient of funds — at least so far — from this year's round of Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants, according to a list published Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Budget Office.
RACP awards are designed to match existing investments into projects deemed by the Pennsylvania governor's office as having the potential to encourage economic development in surrounding areas.
Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for Gov. Wolf, said additional awards from the 2018 round are expected to be approved in coming weeks.
The award money for the First Bank, a neoclassical landmark near Third and Chestnut Streets, will be spent on a modernized heating and air-conditioning system, a new public restroom, masonry repairs, and other upgrades.
"The funding approved today will support the significant renovations needed for this historic property to be brought up to code and permanently reopened for public access," Wolf said in an emailed statement.
The First Bank was chartered in 1791 as the nation's first central bank, a forerunner of today's Federal Reserve System. It went out of business amid partisan squabbling in Washington when its charter ran out in 1811 and was bought by Philadelphia investor Stephen Girard to house his private bank.
Now owned by the National Park Service, the bank building has been closed to the public in recent years, although the federal agency has sought to update and reopen the property for visitors.
While no specific programming plans have been announced for the building, NPS and Independence Historical Trust officials have met with leaders at the Museum of American Finance in New York about possibly collaborating on exhibits, according to Thomas Caramanico, the Philadelphia builder who heads the nonprofit group.
The New York museum has been looking at potential new homes for its collection of Hamilton items and other artifacts since its Manhattan location was closed due to water damage last winter.
The total cost to rehabilitate the historic Philadelphia property is expected to reach about $26 million. The NPS has allocated $5.85 million to be spent in the coming years for maintenance and repairs, a spokeswoman said. Other donations have been pledged by Jeremy Siegel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and the late philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest.
The Independence Historical Trust also plans a Sept. 29 fund-raising gala for the project with actor Leslie Odom Jr., a Philadelphia-area native who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the Broadway musical Hamilton.
The First Bank restoration was one of 114 projects statewide receiving a total of $150.3 million in RACP awards as of Wednesday, according to calculations based on the Budget Office's list. The second-largest grant, for $6 million, went to a proposed office and lab complex for robotics and technology companies in York.
In Philadelphia, $56 million was awarded for 32 projects, including the First Bank. Among them are:
As of Wednesday, only two projects in Philadelphia's suburbs received grants: Villa Joseph Marie High School in Northampton Township, Bucks County, received $1 million for classroom renovation work; and Aston Township, Delaware County, received $1 million to renovate and expand a firehouse.
No grants have yet been awarded for projects in Chester or Montgomery Counties.