<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>

NTCC's One-Year Extension Demands Transparency


Dirty little secret: John Percy likes to boast how hotel occupancy is up in Niagara Falls, New York and says his agency did it. But is the real reason occupancy is up is because of 911? The Ministry of Tourism in Ontario issued a report that said tourism from the United States to Niagara Falls, Ontario is down 50 percent from pre-911 levels. There are hundreds of thousands who want to come to Canada and stay overnight but cannot get across or refuse to be dealt with in the harsh, new, rude, much stricter treatment that one gets when trying to cross into Canada. At one time it was easy for first time tourists to go back and forth over the border and see both sides of the falls. Canada's new "safety trumps all, even if it make us bankrupt," policy has caused a lot of new (captive) business in the United States. Many stay here at hotels.

Details buried in one of two competing resolutions regarding the future of the embattled Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. could finally peel back the thick cloak of secrecy surrounding the taxpayer-funded tourism agency.

Those details could also provide significant pushback against what one Republican lawmaker called NTCC CEO John Percy’s “air of arrogance.”

While a good deal of local media coverage has focused on the dueling resolutions and the radically different contract lengths proposed—a resolution from minority Democrats calls for a 10-year contract extension with the NTCC while majority Republicans are only offering 12 months—there is language deep inside the Republican resolution that would force the tourism promotion agency to divulge a host of financial issues, including its revenue sources and where the money’s going.

“We thought it would be prudent to get answers to questions everyone is asking,” said Legislator David Godfrey of Wilson.  “The County Legislature, the mayor of the City of Lockport, and the Common Council in the city of Niagara Falls have sought this information for years, and essentially been rebuffed.  It’s time the games stopped.”

That echoes sentiments first advanced by Majority Leader Rick Updegrove.  The Lockport Republican said, "There is insufficient interaction with host communities by NTCC leadership, a lack of communication or updates from NTCC, a lack of quantifiable and verifiable results, and excessive personnel costs.”

Updegrove’s complaint left a snippy Percy complaining in several Western New York media outlets of being “blindsided.”

Godfrey provided a copy of the resolution authored by Updegrove, Legislature Chairman Bill Ross, and North Tonawanda Republican lawmaker Paul Wojtaszek, that offers the NTCC a one-year contract extension at the same time it demands “all requested financial records or contracts [be provided] to Niagara County or any stakeholder of the NTCC immediately to allow for appropriate review and evaluation of the contract extension.”

The demand for records includes all records moving forward, as well as those dating back to the February, 2003 agreement that essentially created the NTCC.

“The majority caucus resolution also spells out exactly what financial records we expect to see, so there is no effort at obscuring things further,” Godfrey said.

The resolution contains a laundry list of items including all income received by the NTCC from the sale of promotional materials and the agency’s lucrative hotel booking fees, as well as financial outlays including payments to vendors, contractual payments, and a host of employee compensation and reimbursement numbers.

Godfrey, who huddled over the weekend with fellow members of the Republican caucus ahead of tonight’s meeting of the legislature, said his Republican colleagues were united in their concerns about the NTCC’s ongoing lack of transparency, and would demand answers.  He also scoffed at the notion that the recent settlement between the state and the Senecas would leave Percy able to deflect stakeholder demands for information.

“The county still has the final authority to designate an agency the tourism promotion agency of record,” Godfrey said.  “Whether the NTCC is cooperative will have a lot to do with whether they have that designation—and access to any bed tax money.”

Godfrey said he met with Percy recently and gained nothing from the face-to-face session.

“I wanted to have a frank conversation with Mr. Percy about the NTCC.  Percy wanted to stay on message, and didn’t want to offer anything other than platitudes and pre-rehearsed talking points,” Godfrey said.  “It didn’t sit well with me, this whole air of arrogance he projected when I asked for answers to simple questions.”

Godfrey noted that one-on-one meetings with Percy were unheard of by majority caucus lawmakers until the NTCC contract came up for renewal.

“Now, he’s doing a PR push.  But that’s all it was.  John Percy didn’t react affirmatively to any concerns I raised, either about the NTCC being forthcoming, or about our Lakeshore tourism needs,” said Godfrey, whose Wilson and Cambria district includes a heavily-trafficked boating and fishing harbor.  “It’s like rural parts of the county don’t even register for him.  He’s been playing favorites with the urban areas winning out over the rural ones, and that makes no sense when you’re supposed to be promoting countywide tourism.”

The Republican resolution isn’t the only one on tonight’s agenda.

A radically different resolution by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, an ally of  pro-Percy Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, credits the NTCC with bringing more than a half-billion dollars in spending to Niagara County annually and credits the agency with generating “economic prosperity” in the region. Virtuoso’s resolution would extend the NTCC’s now-expired 10-year contract until the year 2023.

“That’s not too likely to happen,” Godfrey said of Virtuoso’s resolution.  “We have too many unanswered questions, and until they’re answered, I don’t see my colleagues signing on for 10 more years of mystery and obfuscation from this agency."

“The secrecy has to end,” Godfrey said.



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

JUN 18, 2013