Lewiston and Youngstown are teaming up to renew efforts to turn the Lower Niagara River area into an even more attractive destination.
The two villages and the surrounding Towns of Lewiston and Porter are funding a new Chamber of Commerce, which, Lewiston Mayor Richard F. Soluri said, officially will be announced at a Dec. 9 news conference.
The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, meanwhile, is paying for a consultant's study of increasing tourism and commercial development in the Lewiston-Youngstown corridor.
The new Lewiston-Youngstown organization, growing out of the Greater Lewiston Business and Professional Association, will be called the Lower Niagara River Chamber of Commerce.
"It's just a natural thing. We have a lot in common in many ways," Soluri said.
Youngstown Mayor Neil C. Riordan agreed.
"We felt we had a certain significance of our own," Riordan said. "We didn't think the Niagara USA Chamber addressed our needs."
The countywide Chamber of Commerce has drawn its share of criticism, especially from members outside Niagara Falls, for, as Riordan said, being "oriented south." Critics also are wary of an emphasis on regional linkups with Buffalo-based organizations such as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.
Lewiston Supervisor Fred M. Newlin II said he doesn't consider the new Chamber an expression of dissatisfaction with Niagara USA.
"We want to complement the Niagara USA Chamber," he said. "You can't see the Falls from Lewiston or Porter, and you can't take a jet boat ride from Niagara Falls," Newlin said.
Kelly Brannen, chief executive officer of Niacet Corp. in Niagara Falls and chairman of the Niagara USA Chamber board, defended his organization.
"There have always been small business organizations in Niagara County that focus on very local, street-level issues," he said. "The Niagara USA Chamber is different in that it is made up of businesses from all part of the community and represents almost every major employer in Niagara County. Our goal is improving the regional business climate and we are happy to work with any other organization that wants to joins with us."
He said the Niagara USA Chamber has made an effort to expand its board with a better cross-section of members from around the county.
"Should a new Chamber form in the north towns, the Niagara USA Chamber would welcome the opportunity to work with (members) as well, to ensure that their issues are getting the attention they deserve throughout the county," Brannen said.
Newlin said the new Chamber of Commerce will be a means of coordinating the local business groups in northern Niagara County. He said it could help cross-market events and avoid conflicts, such as the scheduling glitch that sank the Taste of Lewiston this summer.
The two villages and two towns are kicking in money -- a total of $28,000 to $30,000 -- to start the new chamber, Riordan said. Its advocacy would extend eastward to Sanborn, which is on the Lewiston-Cambria border, and Ransomville, on the eastern edge of Porter, just over the Wilson town line.
Newlin said the town has been giving the Greater Lewiston Business and Professional Association $50,000 a year. He said the town's share of the new Chamber's funding will be taken out of that stipend.
Sandra Hays Mies, the executive director of the Lewiston business group, will be in charge of the new Chamber, Riordan said.
Mies didn't want to discuss that topic, but she said she was excited about the study of economic development along the riverfront.
The study, costing up to $20,000, is being funded from $400,000 the county development agency received in September from the Governor's Office of Small Cities. Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs, which is already working in Niagara County as a subcontractor on a strategic marketing plan for downtown Lockport, was chosen to do the work.