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The grand opening of the new Buffalo Niagara International Airport, a series of publicity and marketing events that culminated early last month with four days of parties and open houses, wound up costing $412,000.

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority commissioners on Friday approved paying Collins & Co., the public relations firm that managed the event, an additional $150,000 for extra work involved in the grand opening. The company had been designated last May to manage the event at a cost of $262,000.

"We used this as a marketing tool to introduce the community to the terminal, and that comes with a cost," said NFTA Commissioner Mary Martino, chairwoman of the grand opening committee.

"We felt it was a very successful weekend and were pleased with the broad reach it had in the community."

The NFTA estimates the grand opening events attracted 70,000 residents and 4,000 dignitaries, a major increase from the 30,000 residents and 700 VIPs originally envisioned.

About $230,000 of the costs associated with the grand opening and related marketing campaign was paid for by taxpayers.

Forty-five percent of the money, $186,000, came from private sponsorships, NFTA officials estimate, including the underwriting of an opening reception Oct. 30 by CA One, the Delaware North Cos. subsidiary that has the concessions contract at the new terminal.

Collins & Co. received approximately $80,000 for its efforts with the rest of the money divided among advertising, printing, entertainment and other costs.

In another matter, a $10 million communications project that would allow the NFTA to track its Metro buses and ultimately give riders up-to-the-second arrival information is far behind schedule and close to the point where the company involved may be dumped.

Harris Corp. received the contract for the system in October 1995 and had been scheduled to have it installed by last April. But the company is not expected to have it done now until spring, if it can work out the software bugs that have plagued its implementation.

"Plan A is Harris and we get a good schedule and get back on track," NFTA Executive Director Richard T. Swist said. "Plan B is the default scenario and how we can best recoup our investment."

Swist said the agency has spent about $3.4 million so far, most of it for improved two-way radios that can be used regardless of whether the companion Automatic Vehicle Locater system works.

The remaining $400,000 has gone toward developing computer software that is supposed to allow a Metro dispatcher to call up the exact location of a bus on a computer within seconds. So far, it hasn't worked.

The NFTA believes having the capability to quickly locate its buses will help not only make Metro more efficient but also provide the kind of information that will allow a person wanting to ride a bus to call the dispatcher and find out exactly when it's expected at its next stop.

The system also is expected to help Metro meet the tight scheduling required under the Hublink proposal for improving metropolitan transportation service. Hublink relies on closely coordinating buses, vans and other vehicles that would serve a series of suburban transfer stations.

"This is cutting edge technology, and it's not unusual to have this type of difficulty on this type of project," said Walter Zmuda, NFTA general manager of engineering. Zmuda said the agency should know by the middle of next month whether the project will continue with Florida-based Harris or whether a new company must be found to finish the job.

In other business, the Surface Transportation Committee reviewed plans for a two-month promotional contest that Metro will begin in mid-January to boost bus ridership by up to 20 percent this winter.

The "Metro to Jamaica Sweepstakes," featuring a grand prize of a one-week trip for two to Jamaica, will cost $100,000 in cash to promote along with traded radio advertisements worth about $25,000.

In other matters, William G. Gisel, the last of the original NFTA commissioners, has submitted a resignation letter saying he will end his 30-year career on the 11-member board in early January.

William H. Hudson, a former Marine Midland Bank executive who now works with a private investment consulting firm, is expected to be nominated by Gov. Pataki to replace Gisel.

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