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More cultural groups than ever want a slice of Allegheny County's 1% sales tax

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, 5:48 p.m.
Arcade Comedy Theater performers Andrea Wetherald, Alisa Cullison, Steve Gottschalk, Sarah Turocy and Chris Leone start the Penny Arcade show, Downtown Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Arcade Comedy Theater performers Andrea Wetherald, Alisa Cullison, Steve Gottschalk, Sarah Turocy and Chris Leone start the Penny Arcade show, Downtown Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015.
This Jan. 13, 2017 photo shows the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in downtown Pittsburgh built to honor Pittsburgh born playwright August Wilson. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
This Jan. 13, 2017 photo shows the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in downtown Pittsburgh built to honor Pittsburgh born playwright August Wilson. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company performed during Dance With Me, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem benefit,
August Wilson Center, Downtown Pittsburgh. March 16, 2017.
The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company performed during Dance With Me, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem benefit, August Wilson Center, Downtown Pittsburgh. March 16, 2017.
Shinto Johnson, a dancers from the Staycee Pearl Dance Project performs at  a press conference where The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust  announced the schedule of events for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Shinto Johnson, a dancers from the Staycee Pearl Dance Project performs at a press conference where The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced the schedule of events for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
FRIENDS of the Carnegie Free Library, Connellsville, collects books to stock up for its annual spring sale, scheduled for 10 a.m. March 7. Books will be sold at $5 per plastic bag, $5 per library canvas bag or $10 for a new canvas bag and books. Barb Hagner (left) brings two boxes of books for Rose Galik to sort and stock on the shelves for the sale.
Lori C. Padilla | for Trib Total Media
FRIENDS of the Carnegie Free Library, Connellsville, collects books to stock up for its annual spring sale, scheduled for 10 a.m. March 7. Books will be sold at $5 per plastic bag, $5 per library canvas bag or $10 for a new canvas bag and books. Barb Hagner (left) brings two boxes of books for Rose Galik to sort and stock on the shelves for the sale.

An all-time high 100 arts, cultural and recreational groups are set to share $98.1 million in public funding next year under the Allegheny Regional Asset District's proposed budget.

The independent body known as RAD doles out grants to nonprofit organizations and government entities deemed “cultural assets” using half of an extra 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County. The other half is split among the county's municipalities.

RAD's budget plan for 2018, released Thursday and up for discussion at a hearing in October, calls for spending about $300,000 less than last year's budget but includes a record-high number of arts, cultural and recreational grant recipients.

Newcomers added

Three nonprofit groups would be first-time recipients:

Arcade Comedy Theater , a 75-seat improv theater and academy in Downtown Pittsburgh's Cultural District.

Kente Arts Alliance , a nonprofit based in Pittsburgh's North Side that aims to provide high-quality arts opportunities to underprivileged communities, with a focus on African-American diaspora art.

Tickets for Kids Charities, a growing nonprofit based in Blawnox that provides low-income and at-risk children around the country with donated tickets to sporting events, artistic performances and various types of family entertainment.

Last year, Tickets for Kids distributed about 160,000 tickets in 41 states, more than half of which went to children in Pennsylvania, said Jason Riley, the organization's executive director. The group previously was not eligible to receive funding because a RAD board member served on its board.

The $10,000 grant RAD proposed for Tickets for Kids will supply 2,500 children with tickets, Riley said.

“This means so much more than the funding,” said Riley, who oversees an $800,000 annual operational budget. “To be counted as an asset just goes so far for Tickets for Kids, not only in adding to our legitimacy, but it also sort of lifts Tickets for Kids up as an institution that was founded and is growing here in Pittsburgh that Pittsburgh can be proud to call its own.”

Eighty-two returning RAD grant recipients are set to receive more than they did last year. RAD's allocation committee made its recommendations after evaluating each group's regional impact, financial status and plans for spending the funding they requested.

“We are convinced that the proposed organizations will continue to make major contributions to the quality of life in the region,” the committee said in its report.

The Kente Arts Alliance, an all-volunteer group with a roughly $100,000 annual budget, will use its proposed RAD grant of $10,000 mostly on artist fees to bring talent to Pittsburgh's Hill District, North Side and East Liberty neighborhoods, alliance board member Gail Austin said.

“I was so happy to get it,” Austin said. “Every little bit helps.”

$1 million-plus club

Among other notable recipients included in RAD's 2018 budget plan:

The Port Authority of Allegheny County would get $3 million in what has become an annual award since the public transit agency sought help to improve its bleak financial situation in 2012 . The move initially proved to be controversial and the grant must be reapproved each year, but board members have told the Trib they intend to continue the funding stream through the decade so Port Authority won't lose $30 million in matching state funds.

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture is set to get its first direct grant from RAD — for $500,000 — since falling into financial conservatorship and narrowly escaping foreclosure three years ago.

“RAD was an early supporter of the center in the past and with recent developments in its board and organizational leadership, the committee sees that the center is moving forward and has an opportunity to succeed,” the committee wrote in its report, which included one caveat: the center still needs to submit its business plan.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which dominates much of Downtown Pittsburgh's Cultural District arts scene, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Society are set to receive $1.5 million apiece.

As in previous years, more than 60 percent of RAD money's goes to libraries ($31.6 million) and parks ($29 million). An additional $2 million was set aside for capital projects in the county's regional parks, including $500,000 for shelter improvements and $750,000 for restroom renovations.

County and Carnegie library systems will get about $600,000 more next year, in addition to $3.5 million for improving and expanding access to online and electronic resources.

In total, 32 percent of RAD funding is set to go to libraries; 30 percent to regional parks and trails; 14 percent to sports facilities and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center; and 8 percent to specific assets including the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the National Aviary.

The proposed 2018 budget uses $96.5 million in sales tax revenue and the remainder comes from RAD's reserves. It assumes a “modest” 2 percent growth in sales tax revenue compared to last year's budget.

Sales tax revenue through July totaled $72.9 million, about $1.9 million higher than projected, RAD's September budget report shows.

View the proposed budget plan at radworkshere.org .

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or on Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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