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Percy steamed as Niagara County seeks one-year NTCC deal

LOCKPORT – The majority leader of the Niagara County Legislature called Tuesday for only a one-year renewal of the contract with the county’s tourism promotion agency, which has proposed a 15-year deal.

State law gives the County Legislature the power to name Niagara’s tourism promotion agency. A 10-year contract with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. ran out June 1.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said that when the Legislature meets next week, it will vote on an extension, likely for a year.

“They’re looking for a 15-year extension, and we’re not prepared to do that,” Updegrove said. “We don’t want to interrupt the tourism season. We’re willing to enter into a one-year contract. We understand how important it is to our economy.”

John Percy, the NTCC’s CEO, was angered when he learned of Updegrove’s statement.

“I requested a meeting with him twice in the past week and didn’t even get a return call. It’s nice to see that I was blindsided by this press release at the last minute,” Percy said.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster is in Percy’s corner. “I’m in favor of a lot longer extension than one year,” Dyster said. “A one-year extension is an invitation to fight again in a year.”

He said the dispute “creates instability at NTCC at precisely the time we’re counting on them to be a big part of economic revitalization here.”

Updegrove aligned himself with critics of Percy, who for several years have accused him of extravagance, a lack of communication with the entities that supply the NTCC’s money, and a lack of verifiable results.

Those critics have included several members of the Niagara Falls City Council and Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker.

The NTCC is funded by a “bed tax” on hotel and motel bills, charged by the cities of Niagara Falls and Lockport, and by the county outside those cities’ boundaries.

Without a contract, the taxing entities don’t have to make the payments to the NTCC. Niagara Falls, which provides 94 percent of the roughly $1.6 million in annual revenue, sends a monthly check, while Lockport and the county pay quarterly.

Percy said the money is supposed to go into escrow until a new contract is signed.

The NTCC was formed from a merger of the county tourism department and the former Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. Updegrove said the county has not discussed restarting its own tourism agency, but it wants outside scrutiny of the NTCC during the one-year extension.

He said the county intends “to seek the advice of a national tourism expert as we renegotiate our host agreement contract to be sure that all Niagara County entities are receiving optimum results for their investment.”

He accused Percy of orchestrating a campaign of form letters from businesses in the last three weeks, urging contract renewal on the NTCC’s terms.

Percy acknowledged distributing letters but said many tourism businesses augmented the letters with stories of their own success, which they attributed to the NTCC’s promotional efforts.