NIAGARA FALLS – City lawmakers have put off a decision on whether to extend the city’s contract with the nonprofit agency that’s been promoting Niagara Falls to potential visitors from across the country and around the world.
The City Council on Monday night voted, 3-2, to table a proposed one-year extension of an agreement with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. The three-member Council majority – consisting of Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian, Samuel F. Fruscione and Robert A. Anderson Jr. – cast votes to table the measure.
What that means for the tourism portion of the city’s revenue – about $1.2 million last year – is not clear.
The Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. receives bed-tax funding from Niagara County and the cities of Niagara Falls and Lockport, though roughly 94 percent of its bed-tax revenue comes from the Falls. The county and Lockport have already approved one-year extensions with the agency.
John H. Percy Jr., president and CEO of the agency, last week said he believed the agency will still get its share of Niagara Falls’ bed-tax revenue this year even if no contract is in place, based on his understanding of the state law that governs the issue.
But Choolokian, the Council chairman, disagrees. He said he does not believe the city’s portion of the bed-tax revenue allocated for tourism promotion must be paid to the agency absent an agreement.
The city’s agreement with the agency expired June 1.
The city also has an agreement with the county, its own local law and state tax law governing the situation.
When asked about the issue, Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson, the city’s lead attorney, declined to comment, saying any public statements could adversely affect the legal advice he’s given to city officials.
Choolokian, who last week raised the possibility of tabling or even rejecting the extension, has said the Council majority has concerns about how the tourism agency is spending its money, asserting that it has refused to fully disclose financial information, including agency salaries.
The majority also is not pleased with the agency’s performance.
For his part, Percy has said the county and cities receive audited financial statements regularly, and that other financial information is publicly available because the agency is a not-for-profit.
As evidence for his agency’s performance, Percy points to an average daily room rate in the city of $109, up from the low $60 range 10 years ago.
Also, overall bed tax revenue is up 70 percent over the same period in Niagara Falls and Lockport.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he prefers a multi-year extension, but a one-year extension at this point is logical since that’s what the county and Lockport have.
Dyster referred questions about the legal parameters surrounding what might happen to the city’s share of bed tax revenue to Johnson, the city’s attorney. But he has said he does not believe this is a good time for the city to change the way it does tourism promotion, citing recent successes in investment, visitation and room rates, as well as the state’s willingness to invest in promoting the area.
“I haven’t yet seen a coherent explanation” for why the city should sever ties with the tourism organization, Dyster said Tuesday.
Choolokian said he and his fellow lawmakers are looking at their options for tourism promotion.
“Should we do it out of City Hall?” Choolokian said, noting that the agency would need to employ professionals who are qualified to do the job.
Lawmakers are also talking with State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, Choolokian said, noting the past structure of tourism promotion efforts before the NTCC was established in the early part of the last decade.
Before that, Niagara Falls had its own convention & visitors bureau, while the county had its own effort.
“I don’t know if there’s something better,” Choolokian said. “I believe we’ll find out.”