This year’s kickoff to the tourist season will have a different twist.

It’s set for May 14 at the Niagara Falls International Airport, with the chance to showcase the new $30 million terminal bound to eventually boost tourism.

John Percy, president and chief operating officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., said earlier that the airport event, from 5 to 8 p.m., will also feature foods from the four area regions that encompass the NTCC’s local marketing efforts: The Como Restaurant, Niagara Falls; The Brickyard, Lewiston; the Shamus Restaurant (Canal District), Lockport; and The Wilson Boat House, Wilson.

Percy noted that in the past the season inaugural (usually a breakfast) has been held at the Power Vista, a downtown hotel or at the NTCC Visitors Center. “We just wanted to try something different,” he said.

Tickets to the event ($25) may be purchased directly from the NTCC, 345 Third Street (the Seneca Office Building.)

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IN THE PARK: The regional state parks system also is directly impacted by the severe budget cuts in Albany.

Some reminders if you happen to be in the tourist business or you’re expecting visitors in the next couple of months :

• The Prospect Park Visitors Center, from May 1-June 18, will be open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• The Cave of the Winds trip will begin operating May 1 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

• The Niagara Gorge Discovery Center (the former Schoellkopf Geological Center) will be open weekends only May 1-June 18, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The hours will be extended starting June 19 and continuing through the Labor Day weekend.

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STAYING IN TOUCH: Gene Parrone, who operated the former Country Kernel Restaurant, Blairville Road, Youngstown, and later Hardings, Creek Road, is now “The Mayor of the Third Floor” at Our Lady of Peace nursing residence, Lewiston. He has a smile and warm greeting for anyone he encounters on his rounds.

Parrone is on a reduced schedule these days. One of his close friends, however, is still trying to recruit him to revive business at a Falls restaurant.

Maybe next year, Gene.

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ON THE BACKSTRETCH: Since the Buffalo-based Delaware North backed out of the deal to run Aqueduct’s Racino, the state has renewed its search for an experienced gaming operator to build and manage a Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) facility at the racetrack in Queens.

Delaware North, whose operations include concessions in the Niagara Falls State Park, said the current downturn in the economy has prevented the company from securing the financing to carry the project forward.

Gov. David Paterson noted that the VLT system is viewed as vital to the economic development of the race track and to critical funding for education in New York state.

Closer to home, the financially strapped Fort Erie Race Track will begin live racing May 2. For the past several months it was feared the track would have to scrap plans for its 2009 season.

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Carl Filbert, a local musician familiar on the entertainment circuit, reminds us that the Everyday People, a tribute band from the late ‘’60s and ‘70s, will provide the music for an annual high school-type reunion dance open to the alumni of all area schools. The music from the those two decades will be featured.

The dance, to benefit the Niagara Catholic High School and Bishop Duffy High School Alumni Association Fund, will be held Saturday from 7 p.m. to midnight at Niagara Catholic. By the way, Filbert’s band was one of the last to perform on Old Falls Street before it was demolished — the first time around.

Tickets ($5) and other information available by calling 283-6574, ext. 238.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

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