Niagara Gazette

February 27, 2009

TOURISM: Locals urged to woo state with possibilities

<!--Rick Forgione--><table width="234" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" background="" height="60"><tr><td><div align="center"><font size="3" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">By Rick Forgione</font><font face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><br /></font><font size="1" face="Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif"><a href=""></a></font></div></td></tr></table>

The funding pie may be smaller, but there’s plenty of slices still up for grabs.

That was the main theme of Friday’s Niagara Falls Legislative Reception as state officials promised the over 150 in attendance they would continue lobbying for the local tourism industry, despite what’s expected to be one of the worst economic years in history.

“The state is going to spend money and we want to make sure we get our fair share of dollars,” said state Sen. Antoine Thompson, adding that officials need to continue emphasizing how important Niagara Falls and the surrounding area are to New York’s future.

Legislative receptions were scheduled across the state Friday as a way to bring together individuals from the tourism, hospitality and arts and entertainment industries with elected officials who have the means to deliver their concerns and needs to Albany. John Percy, president of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., proudly announced the Falls gathering at Antonio’s Banquet and Conference Center was the highest attended in the state.

“Not that we’re competitive in this business,” Percy joked.

Before passing the microphone off to state representatives, Percy outlined several ongoing projects such as the planned state-of-the-art visitor center downtown, the new terminal under construction at the Niagara Falls International Airport and the City of Lockport’s efforts to restore the historic Flight of Five locks on the Erie Canal.

Percy added NTCC will spend more money this year on promoting the area to potential tourists, specifically ones living within a 350-mile radius.

“This is the year to be out there more than ever,” he said.

Though funds are tight, all three state officials who spoke — Thompson, Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte — agreed growing the tourism industry is a top priority. Specifically, DelMonte focused on the need to restore a projected funding gap of at least $7 million to the state Council on the Arts, which awards over 2,500 grants a year to organizations such as the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center and the Aquarium of Niagara.

“Now is not the time to make cuts to the arts, culture and entertainment,” DelMonte said. “They bring a sense of community, they bring a sense of hope.”

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who spoke briefly before leaving to attend another meeting in Buffalo, reiterated his administration’s support to the city’s growing tourism industry.

“We need to defend the idea that tourism is an industry,” he said.

Getting a majority of state officials to invest in more tourism-related projects shouldn’t prove too difficult. For every $1 spent on promotion, there’s a return of between $7 to $11, according to state Hospitality and Tourism Association President Daniel C. Murphy.

“It’s an investment that turns over and over again,” he added.

The reception was organized by the state’s Hospitality and Tourism Association, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the Niagara Falls Hotel/Motel Association and the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce. Before it ended, those in attendance had a chance to address specific concerns. Questions ranged from the possibility of local hotels tapping into low-cost power to removing an extra transportation sales tax proposed in Gov. David Paterson’s budget.

One businessman argued the condition of Niagara Falls streets needs to be improved if the area is ever going to sell itself and make a positive impression on outside visitors. Addressing that question, Maziarz also criticized Falls government for having what he called “the worst roads of any city” in New York state.

Maziarz said a lot of the road woes can be traced back to the city deciding to use casino funds to build a “$50 million courthouse that should’ve only been $25 million.”

“That’s $25 million that could’ve been spent on fixing roads,” he said.