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Grants from hotel room tax to boost area tourism

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 6:09 p.m.

A busload of Canadian museum docents helped inspire Gabi Nastuck, director of the Latrobe Art Center.

Nastuck realized that the Ligonier Street gallery and cafe could become a hub for guided group tours visiting the city.

“I really strongly want the art center to become a destination spot,” she said.

That vision will get a $1,500 boost from the Westmoreland County Tourism Grant Program, among 65 businesses and nonprofits receiving $382,575 in 71 grants last week.

Administered by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, the program benefited 21 organizations locally, totaling $134,300.

“We can play a little part in carving out our niche,” said Nick Felice of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program.

Grant funding springs from a 3 percent tax levied on overnight accommodations in Westmoreland County.

One-third of the revenue from the hotel room tax goes toward the grants, which can be used for capital improvements or marketing outside of Westmoreland County.

The revitalization program received $1,000 to use for tent rentals during the second Great American Banana Split Festival, planned for Aug. 22-24.

Felice is glad the program recognized the potential of the fledgling festival, which celebrates the creation of the ice cream dessert in Latrobe.

“They see how such things can grow, and it addresses their mission of bringing visitors to the area and Latrobe,” he said.

Nastuck said she wants to do the same, using the art center's grant for booklets that will be distributed to guided tour companies, touting tours, activities and events at the Ligonier Street gallery and cafe.

Within walking distance of the banana split historic marker and the newly announced Mister Rogers marker, the tours also can showcase Latrobe's history, Nastuck said.

Also highlighting the heritage of the area, Derry Railroad Days received $250 in grant money for marketing.

Committee President Russ McKlveen said the festival, planned for Sept. 22 and 23, received money in the past for installation of an electrical panel, but applied this year for marketing funds.

“Any amount is helpful for our cause,” he said, to bring the community together and relive the history of Derry as a railroad hub.

Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, said many small businesses and organizations need only a small amount for a sign or a brochure that can greatly increase visibility.

“I think for us, it's wonderful,” she said of the organization that promotes the historic route in six counties. The group received $4,000 to promote its new “supper market” program this summer.

Six restaurants will provide outdoor, a la carte dining on Wednesday evenings from June through August at the museum in Unity on Route 30.

“I think it's a great opportunity for the restaurants to introduce themselves, their food and their menus,” she said.

Visitors who travel through Arnold Palmer Regional Airport to the Laurel Highlands also may be influenced by the grant money, since the airport received $25,000 from the program for a tri-fold brochure.

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said the Unity airport's last marketing campaign successfully distributed 75,000 seatback cards in airplanes enticing visitors to the area.

“This is a new one we're going to develop so people see the advantages they have in coming to the Laurel Highlands,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or