News Column

Erie regional attractions get combined $323,406 in gaming funding

July 24, 2014

By John Guerriero, Erie Times-News, Pa.



July 25--The Erie Zoo, Erie Art Museum and seven other regional attractions and agencies have received a financial boost.

The Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority board approved a collective $323,406 in funding for the nine groups at its meeting Thursday. The money represents six months of funding, and the groups will get another check in December, said Perry Wood, ECGRA's executive director.

The authority is moving toward funding the groups from a fiscal-year to a calendar-year schedule.

The nine groups are classified as lead assets by the authority, which administers grants from part of the estimated $12 million in annual gambling revenue that Erie County government gets from Presque Isle Downs & Casino.

Here is how the money was distributed: Erie Zoo, $92,465; Erie Art Museum, $43,336; Erie Playhouse, $40,832; Erie Philharmonic, $40,428; Erie Arts & Culture (formerly ArtsErie), $31,839; Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture, $25,032; Erie County Historical Society, $18,671; Flagship Niagara League, $16,766; and Experience Children's Museum, $14,037.

The cultural, historical and entertainment nonprofits can use the money for any operational purposes, including capital improvements, equipment purchases, technology upgrades and personnel.

"We continue to single out these groups as important lead assets to the community because of the economic development results that they provide, not only in growing the creative class workforce, but they also bring people in from the outside and contribute to tourism," Wood said.

The Erie Zoo, for instance, uses some of the money to help fund free admission every Sunday in the summer from 4 to 6 p.m., and after Labor Day, from 3 to 5 p.m., said Scott Mitchell, the zoo's president. The two hours of free admission are "the two busiest hours of the week," he said.

The zoo also stays open three hours later on Wednesdays in July, until 8 p.m., and grant money goes to pay overtime to employees and pay for entertainment, Mitchell said. "It's extremely popular with working families," he said.

Some of the authority money in 2013 was used to fund part of the new leopard and lynx exhibit now under construction, Mitchell said. That $1.3 million project, funded from a variety of sources, will be completed this fall and open in the spring, he said. The zoo is closed during the winter.

"The important part of this for us, and for all the assets, is (financial) stability," Mitchell said. That stability allows the zoo to offer new programs and hire staff, he said.

Wood said the amount the groups received Thursday is the same as they've been getting every six months since funding began in July 2011.

The money comes from an ECGRA account, but future annual distributions are expected to be drawn from an endowment. The authority put nearly $5.4 million in an endowment at the Erie Community Foundation in 2012, and that amount has grown to $8.6 million with interest earnings and another $1 million that the authority put into the fund in December.

The authority could start drawing down from the endowment sometime in 2015 for the lead assets grants, but that could be a blend of endowment money and ECGRA account funding, he said. Eventually, the authority plans to award grants to lead assets entirely from interest earnings on the endowment, Wood said.

JOHN GUERRIERO can be reached at 870-1690 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNguerriero.

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(c)2014 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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Source: Erie Times-News (PA)


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