Tribune Live: by Jeff Himler

West Overton Village and Museum in Scottdale plans to use an $18,222 Westmoreland County tourism grant to upgrade the lower level of its distillery museum with improved facilities for disabled visitors.

Managing Director Jessica Kadie-Barclay said those attending programs offered in the Overholt Room who can't navigate interior stairs have had to exit the five-story building and re-enter at a higher level to reach restrooms. With the help of the grant, she said, an improved handicapped-accessible rest-room will be installed that will be accessible from the Overholt Room via an interior ramp.

“We're very excited about it,” Kadie-Barclay said. “We are using that space for weddings, special events and speakers, and we found that there is no way for us to be welcoming to anybody with a wheelchair. It really limits our ability to use that space.”

Kadie-Barclay said the West Overton Village project will replace a fixed stage for presenters added to the Overholt Room in the 1980s with a portable stage.

“It will make that space so much more adaptable,” she said.

The grant was one of 41 presented Thursday at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg in an annual program that is coordinated by the county and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. The combined $387,933 in grants presented this year is a third of the annual revenue generated through a 3 percent hotel room tax levied in the county. That amount is down from $401,191 awarded last year but is slightly more than the $382,575 distributed in 2014.

In addressing the recipients, Charles W. Anderson, a county commissioner, pointed out that tourism is one of the two chief “money-makers” in the county, along with agriculture.

“You guys are the generators of economic development. We want to do everything we can to feed you oxygen and keep you going,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Kopas said the tourism grant program serves as an example that “taxes aren't always evil, and we can make them work.”

Visitors bureau CEO Renee Seifert reported visitors spent $1.8 billion in the Laurel Highlands in 2013, including $742 million in Westmoreland County, according to most recent data available.

She added that 14,836 people were employed in tourism in the Laurel Highlands that year — 5,723 in the county — which was a 4.2 percent increase from 2012.

Seifert noted organizations or businesses receiving grants in excess of $10,000 will receive half the amount in advance, with the remainder released pending documentation that the money was expended as planned.

This year's grant recipients were selected from 78 applicants seeking a total of $692,000.

The Regional Trail Corporation received a $10,433.75 grant to cover operational costs of the West Newton Visitors Center, a key stop along the Great Allegheny Passage hiking and biking trail.

All other funds were requested for marketing efforts. Recipients of the largest grants included The Palace Theatre and Fort Ligonier, $25,000 each, and Westmoreland Museum of American Art, $24,000.

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