By M. Thomas / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From fairs to air shows, concerts to museums, southwestern Pennsylvania offers myriad ways to enjoy leisure time. The many venues and events are supported by an often bare-bones staff, an army of dedicated volunteers, and budgets cobbled from a variety of public and private sources that supplement admission fees.
Tourism grants offered by many local counties are one source of revenue. They’re awarded, generally annually, at various times of the year.
In January, the Westmoreland County Tourism Grant Program distributed $382,271 to 37 organizations chosen from 67 applicants. The 2017 grantees range from organizers of annual events, such as the Derry Township Agricultural Fair Association, which received $2,316, to year-round destinations, such as the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, which was granted $25,000.
Other Western Pennsylvania counties, many of which have later application deadlines, will announce the names of grant recipients later in the year.
Most of the 2017 money will be used to let local residents know what’s happening and to entice those from surrounding counties and states to enjoy a visit while contributing to the local economy.
The Derry fair, for example, will bring in radio station WFGI (Froggy FM) for a remote broadcast and distribute pamphlets for display in five counties. The Westmoreland Museum of American Art will reach out to the Columbus, Ohio, area in partnership with Fallingwater, the home in Fayette County designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Forming partnerships is a growing trend, said Anna Weltz, director of public relations for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, which administers the Westmoreland grant program.
“It’s an opportunity to market out of the region,” she said. “Come to see the museum and Fallingwater and stay over. Maybe play some golf, go out to dinner, see a show.”
Some local attractions already draw out-of-state residents. Idlewild amusement park is a popular destination for those who live in and around Cleveland, she said. And the income generated by visitors from Washington, D.C., and its bedroom communities is “huge for the ski industries.”
The Westmoreland County grants are supported by a 3 percent room tax on hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and other county lodging venues. Since the 2003 establishment of the Westmoreland grant program, $4.6 million has been invested in the community, Ms. Weltz said.
Two of the grant recipients will apply their awards to programming rather than marketing.
The $25,000 granted to the Westmoreland County Airport Authority will ensure the return of the U.S. Navy’s popular Blue Angels to the Shop’n Save Westmoreland County Airshow as well as pay for additional event scheduling. The air show will be held June 24-25 at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe.
“We’ve had [the Blue Angels] several times and they always draw a crowd in,” said Dwayne Pickels, airport authority grants director. The total air show budget is $300,000.
The $5,000 awarded the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor will cover about two-thirds of the cost of audio tours for the Lincoln Highway Experience museum, which celebrates the country’s first coast-to-coast highway. The museum is located on Route 30 east of Latrobe.
Museum executive director Olga Herbert was impressed by the audio tour she took at the Biltmore House, an historic home in Asheville, N.C.
“It wasn’t like it replaced a person, but it gave the back story to most of the rooms,” she said. The inclusion of sounds like barking dogs and children at play “really helped this historic building come to life.”
She believes “the added value of kind of an inside story” would enhance the visitor’s understanding of the Lincoln Highway Experience, which is itself located within the historic Johnston House.
The Canadian company Tour-Mate, which has worked with important U.S. cultural venues, is producing the audio tour, which will contain 10 units. More may be added when the museum completes its expansion project, which is progressing now that fundraising goals have been achieved.
The museum raised “around $1 million,” Ms. Herbert said, “and we’re OK with that. We have enough that we feel comfortable moving forward.” The 3,400-square-foot addition will double the museum’s square footage and its exhibit space.
It will house the 1938 Serro’s Diner and an early 20th century tourist cabin, both of which have been restored and are in storage; the museum’s collection of period gas pumps; and a 1937 Packard that was donated in February 2016.
“Gas, food and lodging, we have them all,” Ms. Herbert said. “You can check all the boxes that are important for tourism.”
Additional monetary donations would allow for extras that would be nice but are not immediately necessary. “The urgency is to build a secure, climate-controlled space for these large artifacts. And for the public to be able to see them,” she said.
Contributions are also being accepted to a recently started “diner care and conservation fund.” Plans are to serve coffee to visitors who may sit on leather stools at the marble counter, a departure from typical museum settings that may be seen but not touched.
The architect is Michael Friedhofer of Landmarks SGA LLC in Somerset, who oversaw the diner restoration.
“He paid great attention to detail, was very responsive to our concerns and has a background with a sense of history,” Ms. Herbert said. “He has the sensitivity to know what went into that diner and the tourist cabin. We have an 1815 building that’s on the National Register that he has to marry with a building that’s clearly 2017.”
The projected expansion completion date is December, at which time the museum will close for a month for installation work.
M. Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.