Washington County gears up for second decade of Local Share Account funding from casino revenues

Barbara Miller
Observer Reporter

Washington County Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan wowed chambers of commerce members and guests with a staggering sum Thursday morning: $473,733,753.

The nearly half-billion dollars is the total of the county’s local share of gambling revenues from The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, plus additional money and matches from other sources – known as leverage – that has poured in since the first distribution in 2008. The amount that came from the casino, itself, was $88,786,675.

The commissioner and her colleagues discussed the program and its impact on the county Thursday morning at a breakfast meeting of the Mon Valley Regional and Washington County chambers of commerce at Nemacolin Country Club.

Of the nearly $89 million that came from the casino directly, $26,189,887 went to the Mon Valley, according to figures compiled by the Washington County Redevelopment Authority. This represents 29.49 percent of the 10-year total, Irey Vaughan said.

The commissioners encouraged those gathered to formulate local share applications, the most recent round of which closed last week.

Christopher Whitlatch, who grew up in Uniontown and is now chief executive officer of Mon Valley Alliance, hopes to resurrect the Coyle Theater as what he called a “co-working space” that will include a small theater as an anchor of the Charleroi business district.

Through the upcoming round of the local share, Mon Valley Alliance will be seeking $282,000 for interior demolition, he said.

The 1,000-seat theater, which dates to the 1890s, closed in 1999 after showing the movie “Titanic.”

Alta Vista Business Park in Fallowfield Township has received $3.3 million in local share funds over the first decade of the program, among the three largest recipients, which also include Starpointe Business Park near Burgettstown and Southpointe II in Cecil Township.

“No company is going to move to Alta Vista and bring jobs to Alta Vista if the communities around it are falling down,” Whitlatch said.

He cited the Charleroi facade renovation, the creation of a riverfront park, sewer and water repairs and the rejuvenation of Monongahela Aquatorium as examples of local share projects that are helping to put the Mon Valley “on the road to recovery.”

After a panel discussion among the Washington County commissioners moderated by Jeff Kotula, chairman of the LSA board and president of the Washington County chamber, wrapped up, Armand Ferrara, president of Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, spoke of his experience with the local share process.

“Locally, we help run the facade program,” Ferrara said. “It’s a super program, and if you go through Charleroi, you get to see the results.”

Of presentations made to the LSA board, Ferrara recalled, “To go sit in front of them, it’s like going to a hearing.”

William McGowen, executive director of Washington County Redevelopment Authority, said in the current round of local share applications that closed Oct. 3, 68 applicants are asking for $18.4 million, about $11 million more than is available.

Public hearings will be scheduled for December. The redevelopment authority, which administers the local share process, expects to have a list of applicants ready next week.

Fayette County also has a Local Share Account with revenue from Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, but the amount of money to be divvied up has been between $550,000 and $600,000 a year. Requests for the available cash have totaled more than $2 million annually since the casino opened in 2014.

Andrew French, executive director of Fayette County Redevelopment Authority, in a phone interview Thursday, described his county’s procedure as less formal than the one in Washington.

Presentations to the Fayette advisory panel are optional, and those who fear their projects might not be funded can make a last-ditch attempt before the board of commissioners, which deliberates publicly before finalizing a list.

As in Washington County, the state Department of Community and Economic Development has final approval.

Although DCED has over the years eliminated a few projects from Washington County, French said all 40 or so of Fayette’s projects – from infrastructure improvement and trail development to restoration of a flooded food bank – have been approved by DCED as presented.