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TOURIST STAND WINS A ROUND IN SIGN BATTLE NIAGARA FALLS APPROVES 'WELCOME CENTER' LABEL

The City Appeals Board has given its official blessing to a sign advertising the "Niagara Falls Welcome Center," a tourist information stand run by a private tour operator.

The official-sounding sign was approved for Benjamin Tirabassi's Bridal Veil Tours despite an earlier split vote by the Planning Board, which refused to make a recommendation on the sign.

Planning Board members complained that the words "Welcome Center" violated the spirit of the city's sightseeing law.

The Appeals Board action was the latest in the long-running battle of the signs in Niagara Falls, where private information booths and tour operators seeking to lure tourists try to make their names sound as official as possible.

Tirabassi won approval for the sign at the Niagara Falls Welcome Center, 4640 Niagara Falls Blvd., after he agreed to remove another sign to reduce the total square footage of signs on the property.

City Planning Director Samuel Ferraro said Tirabassi removed an existing sign that was 96 square feet.

"As a result, he has exactly 100 square feet (of sign) on the property, which he is allowed under the sign ordinance," Ferraro said.

Ferraro said Tirabassi still needed a special permit for the new sign from the Appeals Board because sightseeing businesses are controlled by special permits. The special permit was approved when the board met May 18.

The city had cited Tirabassi for illegally installing the signs, but he won an adjournment earlier this month from Chief City Judge Anthony Certo. It now appears the complaint will be dismissed since Tirabassi complied with conditions set by the court.

City Sign Inspector Robert DiCamillo said Tirabassi had to file an application with the Appeals Board and bring the signs into compliance while conducting business as the Niagara Falls Welcome Center.

The law requires the sightseeing company's name to be prominently displayed on signs so that tourists are not misled into thinking they are entering an official government information center.

In response, commercial tour operators have begun reorganizing their businesses under names like "tourist center" and "welcome center." Planning Board members called the practice misleading and called on City Council to tighten the law to make such names illegal.

Tirabassi complained about the Planning Board's split decision, saying that the board has approved signs with similar messages.

The Planning Board earlier had approved a sign for Boat 'n Bus Tours' "Niagara Tourist Center" on Niagara and Quay streets, Ferraro confirmed.

Ferraro said the Planning Board has not made any formal recommendations to City Council regarding changes to the sightseeing law.

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