Feds invest more than $585K to boost tourism in La Grande

Feds invest more than $585K to boost tourism in La Grande


By:  Andrew Culter

LA GRANDE — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration on Tuesday, Sept. 27, announced it is awarding a $585,534 grant to La Grande’s Liberty Theatre Foundation to support the recovery of the local tourism sector through the revitalization of a historic La Grande landmark.

This project continues the restoration of the historic Liberty Theatre, helping to attract visitors to downtown La Grande. The project will be matched with $218,887 in local funds and is expected to generate $150,000 in private investment, according to grantee estimates.

“The Economic Development Administration is dedicated to working with communities to support their locally-driven strategies to recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo in the press release. “This investment will support creation of a destination attraction in downtown La Grande, benefitting the local economy.”

Official notice of the grant, which is funded by the American Rescue Plan, was welcome news to the foundation.

“This is exciting news not just for the foundation but for our entire community,’’ said Ashley O’Toole, foundation chairman. “This level of funding should be enough to get us to the grand opening we’ve all been dreaming of since the foundation was formed in 2012. This is our first federal grant and it’s more than double any other grant we have received. We are already at work assembling a bid package in order to begin the procurement process for a prime contractor who will complete the project.”

Oregon’s senators in the announcement stated they are pleased the federal funds will be able to assist the La Grande project.

“Community mainstays like La Grande’s Liberty Theatre are a must to bring Oregonians together in a common space where they can enjoy the arts and even more local cultural events,” said Sen. Ron Wyden. “I’m glad this historic theater is being restored by community leaders and that federal resources I fought for in the American Rescue Plan are being invested in this project. I look forward to seeing the benefits from this investment ripple out through Eastern Oregon.”

This project is funded under the Economic Development Administration’s $240 million competitive American Rescue Plan Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation program. EDA awarded $510 million in 2021 to all 50 states and territories, according to the press release. The program is designed to accelerate the recovery of communities that rely on the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors. EDA closed all of its American Rescue Plan programs for applications as of May 26. The $3 billion program funding is being awarded on a rolling basis through Sept. 30.

“The theater and the arts are important ways for people to connect with their neighbors and communities through performances, lecture series, and events,” Sen. Jeff Merkley said. “This EDA funding to support the restoration of the historic Liberty Theater in La Grande will go a long way in attracting residents and visitors alike and boost the local economy, while bringing back a piece of the town’s history in the process. I look forward to the completion of the restoration process and the many benefits this project will bring to La Grande.”