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Party lines drawn on Niagara County tourism contract renewal

LOCKPORT – Two competing resolutions on a new contract with Niagara County’s tourism promotion agency are on Tuesday’s County Legislature agenda.

The majority Republicans are proposing only a one-year extension to work out problems they have found with the performance of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

The minority Democrats are proposing a 10-year renewal, which is far closer to the 15-year deal NTCC President John Percy asked for. The contract that just expired was a 10-year pact.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, last week cited concerns about Percy’s allegedly extravagant spending and lack of measurable results in adding to the tourist flow in the county.

Updegrove pointed to Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker’s longtime criticism of the NTCC as ineffective for Lockport.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said the GOP members “have to educate themselves about how the tourism industry works.”

He said, “In tourism, you can’t plan year by year. You have to plan things long-term. These conventions are booked years and years ahead of time. Right now, they’re buying [advertising] space for next year.”

As part of a letter-writing campaign organized by Percy from area businesses, Mike Murphy wrote that his company, Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises, has been winning awards on travel websites.

“This worldwide recognition would certainly not be possible without the tireless market efforts of NTCC,” Murphy wrote. “John Percy and his staff have a national and international reputation. Their contacts and reputation alone are valuable assets to Niagara County.”

Robert L. Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara, wrote that the fort’s attendance rose 33 percent last year.

“This excellent performance can be traced directly to the efforts of the NTCC and its marketing programs,” Emerson wrote.

John Kinney, operator of Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, said his revenue from the American side of the Niagara River has risen from 3 percent of his business in 1997 to 50 percent today, a jump he credits to Percy’s organization.

“Without the NTCC, Niagara Falls will become Morgantown, W.Va., Scranton, Pa., or Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. There is nothing wrong with these towns; however, nobody would ever call them world-class,” Kinney wrote.

Updegrove charged last week that the letters legislators have been receiving were provoked by fear.

“They are being told that the County Legislature is jeopardizing their livelihoods by not renewing the contract,” he said. “Of course, they are being callously used by Mr. Percy in what amounts to an effort to save his own job.”