Niagara Gazette

March 16, 2009

NTCC: City tourism board moving to cut agency’s annual funding

<!--Rick Forgione--><table width="234" border="0" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" background="http://static.cnhi.zope.net/flashpromo/niagaragazette/images/byline_234x60.jpg" 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="mailto:rick.forgione@niagara-gazette.com">rick.forgione@niagara-gazette.com</a></font></div></td></tr></table>

Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board members reiterated Monday they want to strip the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. of nearly half of its annual budget and spend the money on improving city streets.

“This is not a witch hunt and it’s not a game,” board chairman Jerry Genova said. “This is for real.”

Councilman Samuel Fruscione, who serves as liaison to the advisory board, said he’s meeting with NTCC President John Percy on Wednesday to discuss concerns the area is not getting fair treatment when it comes to advertising and promotions, despite providing the majority of funding.

Fruscione said the City Council will push for state legislation to allow the city keep up to $800,000 of the approximately $2 million it provides NTCC annually in bed taxes and casino funds.

“They’re going to have to start doing more with less,” Fruscione said, adding he believes Percy spends too much on traveling.

Genova pointed out the city used to spend $800,000 a year to fund the old Niagara Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, whose sole purpose was to fill hotel rooms here. The city now pays more money to the NTCC and receives less in his opinion.

In 2003, the city and county entered into a 10-year agreement to create NTCC, which unified the Convention & Visitors Bureau and Niagara County Tourism. At that time, city officials balked when they learned its revenue from bed taxes would make up more than two-thirds of NTCC’s annual budget.

Since then, NTCC has also started receiving $1 million from the city’s share of casino revenue. Combined with bed tax, the city’s annual contribution is about $2 million on average.

“If I’m giving you the most money, you better be giving me the most attention,” Genova said. “That hasn’t been happening.”

Genova said one of the biggest problems is NTCC and its employees aren’t being held accountable.

“Their check comes whether they’re doing a good job or a bad job,” he said.

Tourism board member Denise Easterling said more of NTCC’s promotions should focus on the Cataract City, regardless of the annual financial contribution.

“It’s not even about the money, the falls is the attraction,” Easterling said.

Percy has repeatedly said the agency’s main focus has always been Niagara Falls and the majority of advertising and promotion are done within a 350-mile radius. He has said the tourism board’s complaint is without merit and detail but he is willing to discuss the concerns.

If money cannot be withheld from NTCC, Fruscione said he would like the city to consider breaking the contract, which is renewable annually and can be terminated by any party with six months notice.

In addition to his discussion with Percy on Wednesday, Fruscione also is planning to meet with the Niagara Falls Hotel Association to gain support for the city keeping a portion of the NTCC funding and using it to fix roads.

Frank Strangio, president of the association and owner of the Quality Inn on Niagara Falls Boulevard, agrees city streets need to be fixed, but not at the expense of marketing and promotion. He doesn’t believe the condition of the streets is keeping tourists away.

“If you’re not out there marketing, it’s not going to matter if you have pristine streets,” he said.