Niagara Gazette

May 12, 2014

EDITORIAL: NTCC pact should be approved

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Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Despite the shortened length of a proposed long-term agreement between Niagara County and the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation, all county legislators should support the pact when approval goes to a floor vote May 20.

The agreement has the county awarding its bed tax dollars to NTCC until mid 2017, and the agency committing to a “destination deficit” study of the overall product and enhancements that would benefit the local tourism industry.

The multi-year agreement definitely is preferable to another short-term deal between the county and its designated tourism promotion agency. A now-dead proposal to extend bed tax funding to NTCC for six months, in exchange for the private, non-profit agency surrendering its financial information for legislative review, was an unbridled power play by the legislature’s GOP majority and it would have hurt both the agency and the local tourist economy.

According to NTCC, countywide, bed tax revenue has increased by 70 percent since the agency was formed in 2003. Hotel occupancy rates also increased, through the lengthy economic downtown that began around 2008.

Skeptics, mostly from the GOP camp, have questioned whether NTCC can take credit for those positive developments. The answer from those in the know — hospitality vendors from the Niagara Region Charter Service and Fort Niagara to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum, to Becker Farms/Vizcarra Vineyards and Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises — is an unequivocal “yes.”

Skeptics also have questioned the “fairness” of NTCC’s promotion of attractions in Niagara Falls versus Lockport versus the rest of Niagara County. All three municipalities are investors in NTCC, each turning over the lion’s share of their bed tax collections to help fund the agency. The city of Niagara Falls is back to contributing a share of its casino cash on top, for a nearly $2 million total investment versus roughly $85,000 from Lockport and $82,000 from the county. Attractions in the Falls do get heaviest play by NTCC, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, equity complaints helped sink renewal of the county’s original 10-year pact with the agency last spring.

The proposed three-year agreement draws criticism from county lawmaker Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, who says it’s not long-term enough to empower NTCC to book events five or more years out, as is common in the industry.

We don’t disagree with Mr. Virtuoso — “three years of certainty” is a bit oxymoronic — but the apparent alternative, another short-term extension that focuses on the present only, provides no certainty at all. It does nothing to address the lingering equity issue either — but the promised destination deficit study tied to the multi-year deal just might. All things considered, the new deal seems like a fair compromise. Lawmakers in both caucuses should support it.

And once the ink is dried, the terms should not be pushed out of sight, out of mind until expiration is near again. NTCC should make good on its study pledge quickly, publicize the results and and enact recommendations for advancing destination tourism throughout the county.

While it does, the legislature should cease trying to micromanage NTCC, which has an able board of directors, and look forward to the agency proving itself a worthy long-term partner in economy building.