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$509,778 to boost tourism, arts in Fayette County

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Fayette County Cultural Trust will use two tourism grants to promote the Connellsville Canteen and to increase exposure to local artists, the group's president said.

The 29 not-for-profit groups divided nearly $509,778 in county tourism grants presented Friday during a program in the State Theatre in Uniontown.

The cultural trust, which received two grants totaling $40,000, has set up a railroad display that includes a station that resembles the one in Connellsville, President Michael Edwards said.

“We're trying to build up (Connellsville's) downtown as a destination,” he added.

The funds will help equip the cafe and kitchen in the canteen on West Crawford Avenue, which will operate as a culinary training center focusing on farm-to-table dining.

The second grant will be used to increase exposure to ArtWorks Connellsville, a group involving more than 80 local artists, and for the Connellsville Crossroads magazine, Edwards said.

The tourism funds come from a 3 percent county hotel tax earmarked by the county commissioners.

A five-member committee awarded the grants based on applications submitted by eligible recipients. Committee members based selection on the criteria of marketing, capital improvements, operations and tourism education, according to the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which administers the money.

“We spend hours making sure we're giving everybody a fair shake,” said Ron Virag, visitors bureau executive director and a committee member.

The Greater Uniontown Heritage Consortium, owner of the State Theatre, received two grants totaling $45,000.

One grant will help pay utility bills, interim executive director Erica Miller said.

“With this large building ... it's expensive to light and heat,” she said.

The second grant will be used to promote downtown Uniontown and place tourism brochures in display racks across the state, Miller said.

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy received $35,000 in two grants. Part of the funding will be used to determine why new cracks have appeared on two foundation piers at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater near Mill Run.

The Carnegie Free Library in Connellsville received three grants for $25,000. The money will help a collaboration with the Connellsville Area Historical Society to promote the new historical museum, the 1870 Gibson House and Crawford's Cabin through brochures.

The funds will assist with costs to operate the library and promote a volunteer program.

The total amount awarded this year was the largest since the county designated a hotel tax for tourism five years ago, according to the visitors bureau.

Half of the county hotel-room rental tax goes to the tourism grants.

Visitors spent more than $634 million in the county in 2011, according to the latest statistics available from the Economic Impact of Pennsylvania and Travel and Tourism Report.

Visitors to the county spent about $595 million the previous year.

In all, 47 grants were awarded to the 29 groups.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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