Mt. Pleasant area businesses benefit from tourism grants
With spring comes the arrival of new life, particularly at Living Treasures Animal Park.
The Donegal Township facility recently welcomed two African lion kittens — a male and a female — which are the first to have been born at the park since it opened in 1998.
“They have yet to be named but they are frolicking at our new lions and tigers exhibit,” said Tom Guiher, the facility's owner.
The exhibit, with its bowed, 3⁄4-inch-thick glass viewing enclosure, allows visitors a clear, up-close view of the kittens and their parents at the park, which opened for the season April 4.
“It's going to be our main attraction,” Guiher said.
As such, word of the new exhibit will be part of the park's billboard campaign, set to rotate throughout nine Western Pennsylvania counties.
That campaign recently received a $4,000 marketing grant from Westmoreland County's annual tourism grant program.
In all, the program awarded 63 grants totaling $413,624 that the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau distributed to 59 county tourism-related businesses and organizations during a presentation held April 3 at St. Vincent College in Unity.
It was the largest dollar amount of grants awarded from the program's 11-year history.
“When you see the dollar amount we're giving away today, I think you're all going to be impressed,” Ron Virag said to more than 85 community and business leaders involved in tourism.
Virag is a member of the program's five-member selection committee and the bureau's executive director.
“This all reflects back on the focus you all maintain on visitor service. Treat them well, and they will come back,” he added.
The grant program is funded by one-third of revenues generated by the county's hotel room tax — a 3 percent levy on all overnight accommodations that became effective July 1, 2002.
Recipients were selected from a field of more than 100 applications which the committee judged by two categories: marketing and advertising programs and capital projects.
Advertising programs are to be targeted to media that will reach potential visitors outside of the county.
“We're focusing our campaign on the Altoona and Johnstown areas,” Guiher said. “I feel there's a customer base there, we just need to get them to come over the mountain.”
Capital projects include improvements that benefit tourism and the visitors' experience by developing new or enhancing existing visitor amenities.
“We tore down the old exhibit with the bars. The new exhibit is much larger, so there is much more room for the animals to move around, and it will make for much better viewing by our visitors,” Guiher said.
Other local businesses and organizations chosen as recipients for program funding included:
• Days Inn Donegal — $10,000 to assist with the business' partnership with Fallingwater and advertising in the 2014 Laurel Highlands Destination Guide and on laurelhighlands.org
• Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethnic Festival — $6,000 to target visitors from Allegheny, and Washington counties and portions of Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland, via a multimedia campaign to promote the event's 27th annual installment
• Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce — $5,000 to be used to lease a billboard located eastbound along the PA Turnpike near the Donegal exit for a period of one year in partnership with Foggy Mountain Lodge
• Caddie Shak Family Fun Center — $4,000 to help fund a promotional partnership for the Donegal Township facility with WPXI-TV and WPXI.com and a billboard campaign throughout Allegheny County
• Escape to Donegal — $4,000 to increase exposure of Donegal's amenities via a multimedia campaign of online and print advertisements and brochure distribution for the multi-business collaboration meant to attract travelers to shopping, dining and lodging opportunities
• Overly's Country Christmas — $3,600 to fund billboards in Allegheny, Fayette and Somerset counties to promote the annual holiday destination at Westmoreland Fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township
• Geyer Performing Arts Center — $3,500 to fund television commercials promoting the Scottdale-based community theater
• Laurel Highlands Heritage Festivals Marketing Cooperative — $3,500 for television advertisements, billboards and online banner ads all directing potential visitors to the website 4FALLFESTIVALS.com, which features the upcoming 2013 Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival
• Historic Scottdale — $3,000 to implement a comprehensive, eMarketing and online banner advertising and marketing campaign by the collaborative effort of 10 businesses and organizations to attract visitors to the community for its lodging, dining, shopping and entertainment venues
• Carson's Premier Restaurant and Catering — $2,500 to conduct a billboard campaign promoting the Scottdale-based business in Fayette, Washington and Allegheny counties
• Christian Family & Children's Center — $2,000 to conduct print, digital and media advertising to attract additional visitors from West Virginia and Ohio to the center's fifth annual ALLOUTPRAISE, an outdoor contemporary Christian music festival on its campus in July
• Christmas in the Mountains — $2,000 to conduct a multimedia campaign to promote the 14th annual installment of the three-day, holiday event involving about 15 businesses located along the Donegal Corridor of state Route 31
• Laurel Highlands Snowmobile Club — $1,500 to advertise the annual events of the club dedicated to improving the Laurel Highlands' snowmobile trail system and for coordinating events to increase trail usage
• Braddock Trail Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution — $900 to promote the Mt. Pleasant organization's annual Festival of Lights at the historic Samuel Warden Mansion in the borough
• Holiday Inn Express and Suites — $800 to target groups via the mailing of glossy, full-color postcards highlighting the business's lodging property and some of the region's signature attractions
• West Overton Village — $3,000 to assist with structural repairs to the Big Barn at the village — the birthplace of industrialist Henry Clay Frick — which contains an intact collection of more than a dozen structures dating back to the early 1800s
• Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce — $900 to construct an outdoor, all-weather brochure rack to accommodate visitors when the chamber office in Donegal Township is closed.
Seven Springs Resort will earmark a portion of its $30,000 tourism grant from Somerset County toward the marketing program. The resort will provide less than a “five-figure” allocation for the marketing campaign, said spokesman Alex Moser.
County commissioner Chuck Anderson, chairman of the program's selection committee, said all of the grant recipients were richly deserving of the funding.
“You guys are the ones out there doing the work and bringing in the people who spend the money to make this all happen, and make this all a success,” Anderson said.
Virag said spending on lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreation and transportation in the three-county Laurel Highlands region was about $1.73 billion in 2011 and supported about 14,028 jobs, a 10 percent increase in spending and a 1.5 percent increase in jobs from 2010.
Westmoreland County saw $725 million in tourism spending in 2011, up from $652 million in 2010, according to the state's 2011 report on the economic impact of travel and tourism in the state.
“This helps us to build the economy of Westmoreland County,” Virag said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Trib Total Media staff writer Joe Napsha contributed to this report.