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Holiday market deserves a chance; Goal should be to reduce subsidies, continue successful attraction in Falls

Practically everyone agrees that downtown Niagara Falls could use a boost. A big boost.

Such a boost is being provided by the Niagara Holiday Market, which opened last month and runs for another week during what is usually a quiet season for tourists.

The European-style market features 30 vendors in booths lined up along Old Falls Street between the Seneca Niagara Casino and Niagara Falls State Park, selling everything from Christmas wreaths to dog treats to custom cupcakes.

The market has brought a festive new event to an area that was dimmed when the city's popular Festival of Lights folded in 2001 after 20 years because of the high cost to organizers. The market is open through Sunday.

Opening weekend saw more than 20,000 visitors and the event recently left a visiting Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy sufficiently impressed.

However, the optimism surrounding the event can't overshadow the fact that it took a lot of public money to stage, and its future remains uncertain.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster backed the event and says he didn't intend for it to be a "one-shot wonder."

On the other side, City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione has said the city may not fund the event again. Fruscione is no fan of the mayor and his objections could be seen as just another criticism of the executive branch.

But he's right that $450,000 in taxpayer money is a lot for a 36-day event.

Idaho developer and Ellicottville native Mark Rivers is running the holiday market. He received $225,000 each from the city and the state's USA Niagara Development Corp. He used those funds and more than $500,000 from sponsorships, income and services secured by his Brix & Co., in addition, he told a reporter, to his own funds.

The Council chairman has a point about highly subsidized endeavors that seem to continue their dependence on public money indefinitely. He doesn't want the city to be in the business of subsidizing festivals, and he's right. But shooting down what could be a successful annual event before it can establish itself is perhaps being a bit trigger happy.

Fruscione says he plans on ordering a detailed expense report after the festival, certainly the right thing to do considering all the public money involved. Dyster, the Council and state development officials will all have to take a close look at the bottom line, as will the developer, in assessing the festival's benefits versus its costs.

It shouldn't be another unending taxpayer burden, but if it shows the promise of being a popular attraction in a slow season for visitors, it is worth supporting for at least another year.

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