Westmoreland County businesses, groups awarded $475,000 in tourism grants
Living Treasures Wild Animal Park is doing something different with this year’s $15,000 in tourism grant money — they’re bringing in rare, popcorn-scented animals known as binturongs.
Owner Tom Guiher was prepared to pick up the three Southeast Asian animals Wednesday after nearly $475,000 was awarded to local tourism-based businesses at the 2019 Westmoreland County Tourism Grants ceremony. It was the highest amount awarded since the program started in 2003.
With his share of the money, Guiher plans to build a part indoor, part outdoor exhibit for the binturongs that will be ready for the start of the season April 1.
On Wednesday, 38 businesses and organizations were given grants ranging from $1,300 to $25,000. The grants are financed by a 5 percent hotel tax applied to room rates. In 2016, the tax was raised from 3 percent with the stipulation that all extra funds go toward tourism-related projects.
According to Ann Nemanic, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, hotel occupancy rates rose 7.8 percent in 2018, and hotels saw an increase in revenue of 8.2 percent.
“We are stronger as a region because we continually assess the needs and wishes of our visitors and provide authentic experiences that satisfy the mind, body and spirit,” Nemanic said.
This year, Historic Hanna’s Town and the Westmoreland County Historical Society received the biggest grant: more than $29,450.
The organization plans to use the money to promote yearly events, as well as making the kitchen at the 1910 Steel family farmhouse ready to use for special events and meetings.
The Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and Latshaw Productions were each awarded $25,000.
Since 2012, the airport was awarded the grant once, and the Westmoreland County Airport Authority has received three grants. Each grant ranged between $21,000 and $35,000 and was typically used to promote the annual air show.
Latshaw Productions has been awarded grants each year since 2012, ranging between $10,000 and $25,000. This year, the concert promoting and marketing company plans to use the funds to target potential visitors in the Pittsburgh area and to create a multimedia campaign to promote its 2019 schedule.
According to guidelines, there is no limit on how many times an organization may be awarded the grant, but it is not guaranteed year-to-year.
Three hotels were granted awards this year: Ramada Ligonier, Springhill Suites by Marriott Pittsburgh-Latrobe and Hampton Inn, Greensburg.
Because the tax is not applied to the hotel itself, owners are eligible to apply, said Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for the Laurel Highland Visitors Bureau. Often, funds are used to create packages between the hotels and other tourism-based organizations, which can help the entire region, she said.
Ramada Ligonier, awarded $11,000, and Springhill Suites, awarded $12,750, plan partnerships with Fallingwater, the iconic Fayette County home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“That’s a huge opportunity to partner with Fallingwater,” Weltz said. “It’s pretty much a guaranteed head in bed.”
To apply for the grant, which can be awarded to for-profit or nonprofit entities, tourism-based organizations must describe what the money would be used for, along with descriptions of any capital project.
All organizations must be able to provide a 25 percent cash match or split it between 12.5 percent cash match and a 12.5 percent in-kind services match.
All money must be used before December of the year awarded.
The Westmoreland County Tourism Grant Review Committee reviewed 50 applications for this year’s program.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter @MeganTomasic.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .