Herald Standard: By Pat Cloonan
Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau is distributing $455,936 in regional hotel room tax revenue to 32 tourism-related Fayette County entities — and hoping to distribute more in years ahead with an increase in that tax.
“These funds will help Fayette County tremendously,” county Board of Commissioners Chairman Vincent A. Vicites said of the 2016 Fayette County Tourism Grant Program awards during a Tuesday ceremony at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus.
As for why there could more funds in the future, Vicites said, “the General Assembly has given us the opportunity to expand this in the future.”
He referred to Act 18, a bill passed in the state Senate on April 11 and the state House on April 12, then signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on April 20, which allows counties of the third through eighth class to raise a tax on hotel, resort and bed-and-breakfast rooms from 3 percent to 5 percent. Fayette is a fourth-class county.
Fifty percent of that hotel room tax goes toward the tourist grant program.
“This is leveling the playing field,” bureau CEO Reneé Seifert said, comparing the new situation for the Laurel Highlands counties to that in Philadelphia, which has an 8.5 percent tax, and Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) which has a 7 percent tax.
“We just need to implement it,” said Vicites after the Tuesday ceremony in Maggie Hardy Magerko Auditorium.
“We’re working on a plan to present to you within the next several months,” Seifert told Vicites and board Vice Chairman Dave Lohr. That plan would be presented as well in third-class Westmoreland County and sixth-class Somerset County, partners with Fayette County in the Ligonier-based visitors bureau.
The largest single recipients of the bureau’s 2016 Fayette County Tourism Grant Program are the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy ($66,500) and Fayette County Agricultural Improvement Association ($52,200).
The association runs the Fayette County Fair. It is getting a $27,000 capital grant to help defray the cost of connecting the fairgrounds with the Dunbar Borough/Township Sewage System.
“Once completed, the fairgrounds will be more tourist friendly and able to host larger tourist-related events,” said Ashli Mazer, director of public relations and marketing at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and one of those on a panel that selected grant recipients from among 58 applications.
In this year’s award, the panel also is providing a marketing grant of $25,200 to help the Fayette County Fair organizers advertise the July 28-Aug. 6 event in various media covering Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Seifert and Mazer were joined in that selection process by Tammy Stemson of McMillan Engineering and retired county manager Warren Hughes.
This year’s total is slightly smaller than last year’s award of $457,776 to 38 organizations.
Seifert said this year’s effort was one of the toughest for the committee, which worked as a group for 10 hours but individually spent more hours researching each proposal.
The conservancy is getting $35,000 to market Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater on National Public Radio stations in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.
As Seifert noted, the legendary Kaufmann family home is being considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for World Heritage status. A decision on that could come this summer at a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.
The conservancy is getting a $31,500 capital grant, too, to pave a deteriorated access road and parking lot at the Barn at Fallingwater, which frequently is used for wedding receptions and conferences.
And another Wright-designed attraction, Kentuck Knob, will get a $4,198.50 marketing grant for a multimedia advertising campaign in Erie, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., markets.
“This year for the first time we have for-profits eligible for the grants,” Seifert said. That includes the Inne at Watson’s Choice bed and breakfast in Uniontown.
Watson’s marketing coordinator Marianne Skvarla and Nancy C. Ross were on hand to accept the paperwork for a $6,421 marketing grant. Ross and her husband and Inne co-owner William Ross plan to use to make improvements to their website, print new brochures, and update photography and social media advertising.
Other for-profit recipients include Ohiopyle Trading Post & River Tours ($30,000 so it and two other rafting outfitters can create a multimedia campaign to target Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.) and Neubauer’s Flowers & Market House in Uniontown ($12,397.50 to create cable television commercials and a brochure).
The National Road Heritage Corridor, one of 12 state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources “Heritage Areas,” is getting $25,000 for an updated feasibility study of a proposed 24-mile rail-trail project cutting through Fayette County to the Great Allegheny Passage, as well as $6,000 for the corridor’s operational expenses.
On behalf of Great Allegheny Passage efforts, Regional Trail Corp. will get $14,008 to market its Allegheny Trail Alliance on Ohiopyle community pages in the Trailbook publication, as well as provide for website maintenance and upgrades, and printing and distribution of a new rack card.
Regional Trail Corp.’s Yough Trail Chapter is getting $22,496 toward resurfacing two miles of the Great Allegheny Passage from Furnace Road Crossing toward Layton and $3,900 to market Connellsville in the Trailbook. The Trail Town Program, which locally promotes Connellsville, Ohiopyle and Confluence, is getting $213 for a half-page ad in the Trailbook.
Other beneficiaries of multiple grants include Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus. It will partner with Christian W. Klay Winery Inc., the Hilton Garden Inn of Uniontown and Dr. McCarthy’s Kitchen of Hopwood on a “Vocation Vacation” that will be marketed with a $3,779.50 grant to the winery along the National Pike near Fort Necessity.