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Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board threatens to disband

NIAGARA FALLS – Members of the Tourism Advisory Board are fed up with being ignored by city leaders and are threatening to disband.

The top peeve is the city’s failure to hire a tourism director – a directive the board delivered to the Council two years ago.

Board members, who are leaders of the city’s tourism industry, met in City Hall on Monday, when they suggested the meeting would be their last.

However, they agreed to hold off disbanding to urge the City Council, which meets Monday, to approve a by-laws change in which the board would meet monthly, instead of twice a month. On hand for the meeting was Councilman Kenneth Tompkins.

Lisa Vitello, board chairwoman, said, “We don’t seem to be getting anything accomplished, through no fault of ours. We are here every two weeks. We give all kinds of suggestions to the Council and mayor and nothing is happening.”

Another board grievance is the failure of the city to update a “horrifying” website. Vitello said that request also was made two years ago.

“They don’t take this group seriously,” said board member Shawn Weber, owner of Wine on Third Restaurant. Weber said he will take a sabbatical from the board and look for other ways to boost tourism in the city.

Vitello added that members of the advisory board are too busy to waste their time.

Other board members echoed that.

Pat Proctor, the owner of Rainbow Air Helicopter tours, called the problem “frustrating.”

Jeffrey Flach, the owner of Gorge View tours, pointed to the city’s tourism dilemma.

“We don’t need a multimillion-dollar water slide when we have a natural wonder,” he said. “But until we grow our (hotel) capacity we are not going to have more people staying in the city.”

Tompkins suggested Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. (NTCC) fund a three-year pilot program to hire a tourism director to determine if the post is needed.

He added that although the NTCC promotes the entire area, 80 to 90 percent of its budget comes from the City of Niagara Falls. He said the NTCC has a $3 million surplus and should consider using some of it to create this position.

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is the hard part,” said Weber, who is a former member of the NTCC board.

Gay Molnar, director of development for the Aquarium of Niagara, who noted she has served on the board with Vitello for 10 years, said they have worked too hard to disband. She added the board’s role is still very valuable to the Council.

She suggested the board draft a letter to the mayor and Council, saying, “We’ve worked very hard on the position (of tourism director) over the past two years and now where is it? We have had meetings in good faith, but where is it?”

Vitello said the duty of board members is to act as a liaison with the NTCC. The Council’s job, she said, is to maximize the use of the hotel bed tax.

“We have asked for two things to be paid for through that bed tax” – the tourism director and a website,” said Vitello, who added that without a tourism director, businesses have nowhere to go with their concerns.