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Maziarz Wants Hard Questions Answered About Value of NTCC to Tourism Effort Here

By Mike Hudson

State Rep. John Ceretto will (L) be asked to weigh in when State Sen. George Maziarz (center) convenes a meeting to determine the fate of the NTCC. Pictured at right is longtime political observer, businessman and Maziarz ally, "Jungle" George Satarian.

New York State Sen. George Maziarz will meet today with the board of directors of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. to try and get a clearer picture of what the agency’s leadership believes the role of the NTCC is and should be going forward.

“I was instrumental in the creation of the NTCC, and I saw it’s mission as twofold,” Maziarz told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “The first thing was of course to promote the Niagara region in order to attract people, and the second was to advocate for things here that would be attractive to visitors.”

Maziarz said the NTCC’s tacit endorsement of the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center and its failure to endorse a trolley system that would take visitors from Niagara Falls State Park to other area attractions such as Old Fort Niagara, the Erie Canal, the Niagara Wine Trail and the Herschel Carousel Museum represent failures.

“The real question is what kind of bang are we getting for our buck,” he said. “To date there has been more than $1 million spent on the Underground Railroad Museum, which is actually a 1,000-square-foot room that has not attracted a single tourist.”

That money would have been far better spent on the trolley system, which would have actually generated revenue at diverse locations around the county, he added.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who served on the City Council when the NTCC was created, said he understood things a bit differently.

“At the time, you had the county tourism agency and the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which were often at odds,” Dyster told the Reporter. “It was my understanding that the NTCC was created in large part in order to take the partisan politics out of the tourism game.”

Dyster said he believes the NTCC has performed valuable service to the city.

“I think if you just look at the numbers you see that they’ve been successful,” he said. “I think their business is not very well understood. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge involved.”

Earlier this year, the NTCC’s 10-year contract to promote tourism in Niagara Falls expired and the city stopped sending them a monthly check this month.

Both Dyster and Maziarz agreed that NTCC CEO John Percy may be at least partly responsible for some of the controversy that’s surrounded the private corporation.

“They get funding from multiple sources,” Dyster said. “They sell advertising in their book, souvenirs, but there’s the bed tax money and, until it was cut off, money from the casino. They’re subject to oversight and audit, but there’s been the perception of resistance, and that’s led to some misunderstandings.”

Dyster cited the case of thousands of dollars spent for massages at one tourism event. Some jumped to the conclusion that the massages were for Percy and his staff, but it later came out that back rubs had been given to tour operators and others who stopped by the Niagara Falls booth as a simple promotion.

But Maziarz said the problem is more concrete.

“When I go and talk to Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo about getting money to help the city, he wants to know what was done with the millions of dollars the city has already received,” he said. “The lack of transparency about where money is being spent, the incredible salaries being paid to staff, is astonishing.”

City Councilman Glenn Choolokian has been a vocal critic of the NTCC.

“It is another entity that lives off the taxpayers of Niagara Falls,” Choolokian said. “With its large salaries, large expense accounts, and lack of transparency, it does not provide any demonstrable benefit to the city.”

Last week, a mass emailing went out across Niagara County urging community leaders to pressure individual members of the county Legislature into supporting the NTCC. The email was signed by Percy and NTCC Board Chairman Frank Strangio.

“NTCC is currently finalizing contracts with Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls and the City of Lockport,” the email began.  “We need your immediate action to show support for this organization, specifically to the Niagara County legislators.  Attached are letter templates we ask you to copy onto your letterhead and send to your specific or even better, all the legislators.  Please send a copy to us as well.

“Below is the address listing for the legislators. Hard copies of letters are preferred as they are more impactful. This list includes their email address as well.  Clicking on the email address should open an email window that you can attach your letter to…”

“Time is of the essence; Thank you for your prompt response!”

Percy and Strangio also thoughtfully included the private telephone numbers of the legislators, should the mail and email bombardment not provide enough harassment.

The email went out to many of the usual suspects, including former Francine Del Monte aide and current state parks employee Angela Berti, Chris Schoepflin of Empire State Development, developer and frequent recipient of government funding Sean Weber and hotelier Galeb Rizek.

But the harassment campaign may not be enough. The overwhelmingly Republican county Legislature dances largely to the tune played by Maziarz, and his opposition to Dyster, Percy and the NTCC has been long and vocal.

Our problem here at the Niagara Falls Reporter may be finding another character who combines flamboyance, pomposity and fine tailoring the way John Percy does anywhere in the region.

Who can forget his grandiose boast, on returning from an $18,000 stay in India, “We were treated like royalty!”

He was speaking to the people who paid for the trip, the citizens of woebegone Niagara Falls, whose average yearly income is $18,000, the same amount he spent living it up in Mumbai.

Very soon now, being treated like royalty may be something rapidly receding in Percy’s rearview mirror as he drives himself to the unemployment office.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

May 28, 2013