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Lockport promotion plan raises concerns Residents resent cost, doubt effectiveness

Some of those attending a meeting to explain the city's downtown promotion plan had their doubts about its effectiveness.

Insurance agent Otto Calderone recalled that for two years about two decades ago, the city spent $50,000 a year on a marketing person.

That happens to be approximately the salary the city intends to pay the downtown promoter it intends to hire by Dec. 1.

"This [previous] marketing guy we hired didn't make any sales," Calderone said.

"Why do we have to hire another person?" resident Mike McPhail asked. "Isn't that what our Community Development Department is supposed to do?"

Calderone called for regular oversight and constant progress reports from the new person.

"We recommend a report that goes back to the City Council monthly," replied Teresa Lynch, senior program officer for the Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Charlene Seekins-Smith, owner of the Bewley Building and chairwoman of the Planning Board, said she thinks the new plan is better than the one from 20 years ago.

"It wasn't as planned or promoted as it is now. I think [the new one is] more comprehensive," she said.

The National Trust will be providing marketing advice, but no funds, to the city as part of a program set up by the Western Erie Canal Alliance.

"There is not a cash grant that has been given. It's teaching you how to fish, in effect," said Jayme Breschard of the alliance.

The five-county alliance offered the consulting help to communities along the Erie Canal. Lockport, Albion and Lyons applied and were designated for the program.

However, they had to pledge to spend $50,000 a year for at least three years' participation in the program, mostly for the promoter's salary. In Lockport, the city and its economic development agency have pledged $12,500 for each of the three years. The city's Community Development Department is trying to raise the rest from the business sector.

It's also recruiting an 11-member board of directors for the promotion effort. Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he and Community Development Director William J. Evert will choose the board, and the board will choose the full-time promoter.

Although the job has yet to be formally advertised, Tucker said he already has received four or five resumes from people interested in it.

"This is a position I've talked about internally," the mayor said. "I definitely think it's worth a shot. It's a good trial run for us. The city's in a different position than it was in the past."

Lynch said the choice of board members should emphasize three W's: "workers, wisdom and wealth."

The National Trust's Main Street Program has been operating since 1977, and as many as 2,000 communities have tried it. Lynch said it has four points: organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

"It's not a program that's just about fixing up, prettying up buildings," Lynch said.

She said that in 20 years of compiling statistics, the program claims that its communities have seen $44.9 billion worth of physical improvements, the addition of almost 83,000 new businesses and the creation of 370,000 new jobs.

The promoter's office should be in a visible Main Street location, Lynch recommended.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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