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The idea of creating a single agency to market Niagara County met with measured approval from elected officials and tourism industry representatives at a public hearing Thursday.

Key to the proposal's success will be mustering public and industry support and nailing down new sources of money to pay for the expanded marketing effort, speakers said.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Paula Blanchard, a marketer planning Music Niagara, an international music festival set to debut next year.

The Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau supports the idea of having a single agency, said Director Stan Rydelek. "The synergies and economies of scale would make it much more effective," he said.

The bureau and Niagara County Department of Tourism currently split marketing responsibility in the county. Both would be phased out in favor of the new, independent marketing agency, which could be in place by July 2002 if all goes according to plan.

The new agency should be held to measureable performance standards, generating at least $15 in tourist spending for every $1 it spends, said Joseph Lathrop, the Orlando consultant who crafted the recommendation.

"I think we're pretty much in agreement that we need a single-source tourism agency," Niagara County Legislature Chairman Clyde Burmaster said before the hearing.

But potentially thorny issues remain, including how the new agency would be funded, Burmaster said. The proposal, which calls for a $3 million budget next year, pencils in some $500,000 in matching funds from the state, Burmaster noted. The county received about $70,000 last year.

The proposal also includes $600,000 in new revenue. The report suggests that the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator could charge $1 instead of the current 50 cents, with the additional money going to the new tourism marketing agency. That would require a change in state parks policy, because none of the revenue currently collected at the park goes directly into marketing efforts.

But the idea makes sense, Burmaster said. "The state needs to step up and do more," he said. "Considering the amount of money that park collects, the dollars that come back here are grossly inadequate."

State Sen. George Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Niagara Falls, said that they would work in Albany to secure more state backing for the new marketing agency.

According to Lathrop, new features the agency should address include:

An extensive research capability to identify and target niche markets, monitor industry trends and measure performance.

Creative packaging of the county product and expanded exposure within targeted markets.

Tourist sites elsewhere in Niagara County have to be packaged with Niagara Falls attractions to increase overnight stays in the area, he said.

Support for ongoing Web site development and e-commerce capability.


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