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Connellsville area benefits from tourism grant program

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 5:36 p.m.
Karl Polacek | Daily Courier
Twenty-eight Fayette County not-for-profit tourism-related organizations were awarded a combined total of $452,000 through the tourism grant program's sixth cycle, which is funded by 50 percent of the Fayette COunty Hotel Room Tax. From left are Pete Grella, Trail Town Program/The Progress Fund; Karen Hechler, Connellsville Area Historical Society; James McIntire, Yough River Trail Council/Regional Trail Corporation; Casey Sirochman, Carnegie Free Library of Connellsville; Michael Edwards, Redevelopment Authority of the City of Connellsville and president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust; Vicki Meier, Highlands Hospital; and Ronald Virag, president and CEO of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The Connellsville Redevelopment Authority has been awarded a $50,000 grant for site preparation for a 54-room hotel on Connellsville's West Side being developed by Hotel D2.

The authority was one of 28 Fayette County not-for-profit tourism-related organizations that were awarded a combined total of $452,500 during a presentation Wednesday in Uniontown by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. It was the annual tourism grant program's sixth cycle which is funded by 50 percent of the Fayette County Hotel Room Tax, a tax paid by guests who spend the night in a lodging property.

Fayette County Commissioner Al Ambrosini said 97 percent to 98 percent of the tax is paid by people who do not live in the area.

Michael Edwards, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Connellsville, said closing for the West Side property where the hotel will be located has not been set.

“They acquire the site, then start demolition. They submit the bills to us and then we pay them (the contractors who do the work,)” Edwards said.

Edwards said the developer will have to post a bond so that if the hotel is not built in five years, the bond will revert to the authority, which will then refund the money to the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

Edwards, who is also the president of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, on Wednesday accepted a $17,000 grant for that organization to be used to sustain efforts for events it coordinates throughout the year to attract visitors to the county and Connellsville. The trust was also given a $10,000 grant to use for marketing for the ArtWorks and Connellsville Canteen, located on Crawford Avenue.

Karen Hechler of the Connellsville Historical Society accepted a $5,000 capital grant to purchase a mannequin of Hanna Crawford to serve as a backdrop for the story of how Crawford's Cabin was founded. Another $5,000 grant was awarded for operating expenses for the festival commemorating Braddock's Crossing of the Youghiogheny River. A third grant of $1,500 was awarded for the marketing of the event.

Also benefitting the Connellsville area, the Yough River Trail Council/Regional Trail Corp. was awarded a $15,000 grant for the resurfacing of the Great Allegheny Passage between Bruner Run and Camp Carmel. The grant will also fund the purchase of a commercial Buffalo Turbine Blower and Ground Clear for use on the entire Fayette County section of the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Dunbar Historical Society was awarded grants for $7,000 for a small annex to the education center to display the world's largest piece of carved glass. Pascal's “Seated Torso” was donated by the Donald Trump organization. That grant was accepted by Diana Homer. Donna Myers accepted a marketing grant of $2,000 and Guy Rose accepted another operating grant of $2,000.

Highlands Hospital received $19,500 to develop and promote a Laurel Highlands Wellness Getaway in conjunction with Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. The program will offer a holistic health program including instructions in nutrition, exercise and stress control. Vicki Meier accepted the grant for the hospital.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater received a grant of $40,000 to improve the Overlook Path and the Return Path. That grant was received by Clinton Piper.

The Allegheny Trail Alliance/Regional Trail Corp. was given a $20,000 grant for a website upgrade, production and distribution of trail map and trail town brochures and participation in the Great Allegheny Passage's three destination marketing organization initiatives. Linda Boxx accepted the donation.

The Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette was awarded an $18,000 grant toward the construction of a facility in Lemont Furnace. Shujvane Martin accepted the grant for PIC.

The Fay-Penn Economic Development Council was given a $15,000 grant to market its Buy Local Network, which includes seven Fayette County Farmers Market programs. The grant was accepted by Bob Junk.

The Fayette County Agricultural Improvement Association, Inc. got a $15,000 grant to continue improvements to the Fiddler's Building at the Fayette County Fairgrounds. John Blaney and Linda Rooker received the funds. The association also got a $12,000 grant to increase attendance through radio, cable TV, Google and Facebook ads.

The State Theatre Center for the Arts in Uniontown received two grants of $10,000, one for marketing and one for operating expenses. Erica Miller accepted the grants.

Peter Grella accepted a $10,000 grant for the Trail Town Program/the Progress Fund for the Great Allegheny Passage signage project.

Casey Sirochman, librarian at the Carnegie Free Library of Connellsville, accepted a $9,000 operating grant and a $7,000 capital grant. The capital grant will be used to purchase a new Microfilm Crossover Digital Film/Viewer/Scanner machine.

Donna Holdorf of the National Road Heritage Corridor received three grants for the organization. One for $7,000 will allow for the placement of Pennsylvania's Tourist Oriented Directional Signs. Another for $4,000 was for an operating grant to support efforts to build awareness. A third grant of $2,000 is to develop a website to promote boat launches, kayak rentals and other recreational activities and businesses associated with the Monongahela River in Fayette County.

The Christian Family and Children's Center in Indian Head was awarded a $2,000 marketing grant to promote special programs and entertainment that will be held at the new center. Barbara Skinner accepted the grant.

“From a new hotel in Connellsville, to marketing the Mon River's recreational opportunities, and Fallingwater's grounds enhancement project, there are quite a few new initiatives being funded this year that I think will attract visitors and increase business for the county,” said Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau President Ron Virag.

According to the annual Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Travel and Tourism Report, visitors spent more than $643 million in Fayette County in 2012.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-626-3538.

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