Organizations countywide will receive a combined record total in tourism grant funding for initiatives such as fairs, festivals, farmers markets, historical sites and athletic events that attract visitors to the region.
A total of $725,500 in tourism grants has been awarded for 2019-20 to 46 organizations for 50 projects, the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau and Centre County Commissioners announced Thursday at a gathering in the Visitor Center on Park Avenue.
"The groups represented here are central partners in tourism promotion efforts," said Fritz Smith, CPCVB executive director. "The annual tourism grant program is an important opportunity to help these organizations and initiatives grow, enhance and raise greater awareness about their offerings in order to bring new and repeat visitors to the county."
CPCVB is funded through the local hotel occupancy tax and about 20 percent of its funding historically has gone to the tourism grants program. This year's grant total is a $234,500 increase over last year.
Earlier this year, commissioners voted to increase the occupancy tax for the first time in 17 years, from 2.5 percent to 5 percent, in an effort to drive tourism promotion and initiatives. While the increased tax revenue does not factor into this year's grant funding, Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Pipe said that next year's grant program will set a new record, expected to be around $1 million.
"Tourism grants help sustain the mission of these organizations and further increase the awareness about the events that drive our local economy," Pipe said. "It's about community and engaging the community in being able to market itself and to promote tourism and recreation in Centre County."
Recipients are selected by a grant review committee, and this year's group includes nine new recipients. In the past grants have gone solely to nonprofit organizations, but this year, for the first time, a private business has been awarded grant funding.
Tussey Mountain Ski Corporation received two grants of $3,000 each to promote its CelticFest and Oktoberfest.
"We’re really excited at Tussey Mountain to get to work contributing to the larger effort in shining a light on this beautiful area we all share," said Aaron Weyman, marketing director for Tussey Mountain. "We feel we’ve carved out a nice little niche of fun, popular outdoor entertainment for the local communities here and in the surrounding area, but we feel there is great potential for more — for bigger concerts, for artists that would draw from cities that we normally wouldn’t advertise in or expect to attract people from."
Happy Valley Music Fest, which received a grant last year through a partnership with The State Theatre, was directly awarded a $40,000 grant for next year's festival.
The Boalsburg and North Atherton Street farmers markets received a tourism grant of $6,000 for the first time for their collaboration to create CentreMarkets, an umbrella organization for local farmers markets for marketing and promotion purposes.
Lyn Garling, an Aaronsburg farmer representing the Boalsburg Market and some 50 small farms that sell their products at seven farmers markets in the region, said that they have found "tourists like to have genuine experiences," that farmers markets can provide.
"We’re hoping to have lots of activities at our markets and to be able to shine a light on something that is very unique to Centre County, which is the fact that we still have small farms," Garling said. "We’re very thankful to have the Visitors Bureau recognize that farmers markets are an asset to Centre County and make the visitor experience better."
Smith noted that agritourism is an important component of the county's increased efforts for drawing visitors. CPCVB has embarked on a project with CBICC to promote the region's agricultural assets, from existing ventures like Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail to potential new endeavors.
"We want to see the farmers markets grow in this community," Smith said.
Arts, music and theater have always been well represented among the tourism grant program, with returning recipients including organizations such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the Bellefonte Art Museum, Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra, Nittany Valley Symphony, Palmer Museum, Penn's Woods Music Festival, The State Theatre and Central Pennsylvania Theatre and Dance Festival.
New this year is an effort led by Pearl Gluck, a filmmaker and assistant professor of film-video in Penn State's Bellisario College of Communication, who will work with fellow Penn State faculty member Curt Chandler and the Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation on developing a film workshop in Philipsburg partnered with a countywide film festival.
Gluck said they are planning to start in the fall with a weekend film experience at the Rowland Theatre bringing together people interested in historic theaters, as well as local students and retirees who are interested in film as an engaging artistic activity.
"As a native New Yorker and now a local filmmaker I am thrilled to have the chance to help others discover, as I have, the hidden jewels of Centre County like Philipsburg and the Rowland Theatre," Gluck said. "I am excited for the opportunity to work with my colleague at Penn State, Philipsburg multi-media storyteller Curt Chandler, and the Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation to develop an intergenerational film community centered in this historic place."
Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation received a $5,000 grant for the endeavor.
Commissioner Mark Higgins said the opportunities to support a wide variety of initiatives will only continue to grow along with the increased hotel tax revenue.
"This is going to allow for more support for the Grange Fair, for the Arts Festival, for 4thFest," Higgins said. "And this creates new resources for new programs like the Central Pennsylvania Theater and Dance Festival and the Rivet makerspace at Discovery Space, additional investments in the Bellefonte St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and many others."
Commissioner Steve Dershem said it's significant that the grants support events in every corner of the county, from Howard's Punkin Chunkin' Festival to Aaronsburg's Dutch Fall Festival, to Philipsburg Heritage Days.
"Whether you live in Aaronsburg of Philipsburg or Snow Shoe or Bellefonte, these dollars are going to get passed to everyone. It includes everybody in our community and everybody in our region," Dershem said. "Everybody benefits from these invested dollars. With 46 individual organizations benefiting from this, I think it really demonstrates how great our community is to have so many resources like that but also the commitment you folks have made. This isn’t just a couple days a year you’re working. These projects involve yearlong efforts."
From left, Centre County Commissioners Mark Higgins, Michael Pipe and Steve Dershem and CPCVB Executive Director Fritz Smith announced 2019 Tourism Grant recipients on June 6. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com
Aaron Weyman, marketing director for Tussey Mountain, discusses events to promote tourism in the region on June 6 at the Centre County Visitor Center. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com
Lyn Garling discusses plans to jointly promote multiple farmers markets in the region on June 6 at the Centre County Visitor Center. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com
Pearl Gluck is working with the Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation to develop an intergenerational film workshop and festival supported by a CPCVB Tourism Grant. Photo by Geoff Rushton/StateCollege.com