LEWISTON – The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, which is just getting settled into its new home in the Lewiston Welcome Center and has elected a new chairman of its board of directors, is looking forward to its first major public activity of the new year – a “business blender” from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 21 in Brennan’s Irish Pub, 418 Main St., Youngstown.

The Chamber’s move Jan. 1 into the village-owned Welcome Center at 895 Center St. in Academy Park marked a major milestone in the organization’s mission to promote the quality of life, history, tourism and business among its nearly 400 members in the towns of Lewiston and Porter and surrounding areas.

“It was the right move at the right time,” Chamber President Jennifer Pauly said last week. “We’ve formed a great partnership with the village, and it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”

Until now, the Welcome Center was staffed by volunteers who were not always available, and visitors sometimes found there was nobody there to welcome them or to recommend things to do and places to go in the lower Niagara River region.

Mayor Terry C. Collesano and trustees on the Village Board were looking for a way to make the center more accessible and a more valuable asset to the community.

By coincidence, the Chamber’s five-year lease on the building it formerly occupied at North Third and Center streets expired at the end of 2012, and the Chamber staff was looking for a more visible presence in the center of the village and possibly for a reduction in its rent. The rent had ranged from about $10,000 a year to about $18,000, depending on various reports.

So the Village Board and the Chamber forged a deal under which the Chamber’s small staff would keep the welcome center open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and would pay for utility services, but the village would charge no rent. In addition, the village would reduce its subsidy for the Chamber to $4,000 a year from the previous $9,000.

Collesano and Pauly said the arrangement would save money for both the village and the Chamber, and volunteers will still be available to staff the center on weekends and extra hours during the busy summer tourist season. Collesano said the move helps “the village to cut our costs and we’re helping the Chamber. It’s a benefit to us both.”

The new lease continues through Dec. 31, 2017.

Pauly said the non-profit Chamber of Commerce has been in operation since 2005, when it succeeded the former Lewiston Business Association. Its permanent staff consists of Pauly, finance director Suzanne Raby, and a part-time administrative assistant, Linda Antonucci.

Richard J. Haight, vice president of Advanced Design Group, a professional engineering company, was tapped to succeed George Osborne as the Chamber’s new chairman of the board at the group’s annual reorganization meeting earlier this month. Osborne is president of Artpark.

The Feb. 21 “business blender,” which is open to the public, will be an opportunity for residents and business operators to “network” with one another, learn about attractions in the area and take advantage of local assets, Pauly said.

What sorts of activities does the Chamber of Commerce recommend for visitors during the cold winter months when many attractions are closed and riverfront activities are limited?

“We recommend the two wine trails in Niagara County that begin near Lewiston, the free Power Vista at the New York Power Authority’s Niagara Power Project and ice skating at the Town of Lewiston’s newly enlarged rink in Academy Park,” Pauly said.

She said the skating rink has enjoyed “a booming attendance of both residents and visitors – and it’s free if you have your own ice skates.” Skates also are available for rental at the rink.

Once past the winter season, one of the Chamber’s major events will be its annual awards dinner, which will be open to the public May 17 at Niagara Falls Country Club in the Town of Lewiston.

Pauly said businesses of the year and citizens of the year will be honored at the dinner. She said nominations for those awards are just now beginning to be considered.