BY MIKE HUDSON
At least publicly, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has sung the praises of the shadowy and secretive Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., and its’ CEO John Percy.
The NTCC benefits from nearly $2 million a year in city money, with around $900,000 coming from bed tax collections and another million in casino revenue.
Percy, who reportedly pays himself $150,000 a year to promote tourism, has never been forthcoming about how all that money is spent, and his claims about how many tourists his private corporation lure to one of the most famous tourist destinations on the face of the earth have been a source of continuing controversy.
So why then is the city moving to create its own tourism office, to be funded with taxpayer collars, when it is already contractually obligated to Percy and the NTCC?
Former city councilman Sam Fruscione thinks he knows the answer.
“The (2016) budget and three amendments were passed with no public hearing. This sounds like someone’s getting a job,” he said. “Do the taxpayers a favor and hold the NTCC accountable. We don’t need another layer of government.”
The proposed job description is very specific and would seem to bolster Fruscione’s contention that someone has already been picked to fill the position. It calls for an individual with an undergraduate education in marketing, tourism and recreation management with two to five years of experience in a tourism-related field.
Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti seemed positively giddy about the prospect of creating another office and at least two new positions at the already top heavy City Hall.
“This will be the season this happens,” Grandinetti told the Niagara Gazette this week.
The proposed essential functions for the job include acting as a liaison between the city, NTCC, Niagara University’s Global Tourism Institute, and local chamber of commerces, as well as tourism-related businesses within Niagara Falls. A city-based tourism adviser would also have input in the Falls’ web development, tourism outreach and compile near – and long-term initiatives to enhance visitor experiences in the city.
Perhaps tellingly, although the qualifications for the post and the job description have been described in great detail, no mention has been made of the salary.
But the post has been talked about since 2008, early in the regime of Dyster, who said previously that grant funding opportunities fell through before the job could be formally instituted.
Now, nobody is saying anything specific about how a city tourism office would be funded.
“The mayor right now is restructuring his staff, so we’re giving him time to do that,” Council Chairman Andrew Touma said. “At that time we’re going to determine whether this is a priority.”
“If all the stars align correctly this would hopefully happen in 2016, and I think the sooner the better,” he added. “But ultimately, as much as people believe its important, the timing has to be right.”
In 2013, Fruscione, along with then councilmen Bob Anderson and Glenn Choolokian, almost succeeded in cutting off funding to Percy’s NTCC, but the contact was renewed a short time later following pressure from the mayor’s office.
Many remain baffled about how an agency can spend nearly $2 million in public funding a year and not be at all accountable to the public whose money is being spent.
But is the creation of another patronage office at Dyster’s already bloated City Hall a proper remedy?