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Westmoreland County businesses, vacation spots to receive grant funds |

Westmoreland County businesses, vacation spots to receive grant funds

Nearly $378,000 in tourism grants will be handed out next week to Westmoreland County businesses and vacation destinations.

On Thursday, for the first time since the grant program was started in 2003, county commissioners formally approved the 40 gifts paid from revenue generated by a 3 percent hotel room tax.

The grant program is administered by the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which receives the hotel taxes and allocates 30 percent of those funds for the awards. A committee appointed by county commissioners last month reviewed 78 applications for grants in which more than $692,000 was requested.

Renee Seifert, president of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said the money will be used by the recipients to promote tourism.

“It will help put heads in the beds and entice more visitors to the county. One requirement of the program is that marketing has to be done outside the county,” Seifert said.

Top grant recipients included $25,000 each to Fort Ligonier and the Palace Theatre in Greensburg; $24,000 to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art; $20,000 each to Westmoreland Heritage and Idlewild and SoakZone; $18,222 to the West Overton Village and Museum/Westmoreland Fayette Historical Society; and $18,000 to Latshaw Productions and Marketing Inc.

A formal awards ceremony will be held Thursday at the Palace Theatre, where recipients will be on hand to receive their grants, Seifert said.

The 2016 grants account for the smallest number of awards handed out since 2011, when 40 grants were given totaling $278,000.

There were 60 grants for nearly $398,000 handed out in 2012; 63 grants for $413,600 in 2013; 71 grants for $382,000 in 2015; and 71 grants for more than $401,000 awarded last year.

Seifert said the program doled out more than $4 million since it started in 2003.

Commissioners said they formally voted to approve the grants to ensure the program was transparent and not secretive.

“We did this out of an abundance of caution. After all, we do collect the cash,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

“We want to put more light on it, so we’re putting it out early,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

Each of the three counties promoted by the visitors bureau — Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset — collects hotel taxes with a portion of money raised in each county handed out locally for grants.

Somerset County tourism destinations will receive 38 grants totaling more than $192,000, while Fayette destinations will receive $514,000 in an as-of-yet undetermined number of awards.

The visitors bureau retains a majority of the money to promote tourism in the region.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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