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The stenographers at the local daily newspaper copy the information down religiously. Forbes magazine named Niagara Falls the eighth most popular destination in the country. A couple weeks later Travel and Leisure magazine ranked the city as its fifth most popular, including both sides of the river in its statistics.

Aside from the fact that both publications can't be right, other aspects seemed to elude the paper's editorialists.

If indeed 22.5 million tourists visit Niagara Falls each year, how is it that we have an unemployment rate of around 11 percent with seven out of every 10 people receiving public assistance? Why has there been no new construction downtown or anywhere else in the city for as long as anyone can remember?

If each and every one of those 22.5 million people spent just $10 during their visit, it would inject $225 million into the city's economy. Does anyone actually believe that tourism is a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar industry here?

When was the last time a new hotel went up downtown? Not the remodeling of an old building, but actual new construction. It's been decades. When's the last time you saw a building crane downtown?

Former state assemblywoman Francine Del Monte once famously said that in the 10 years she was in office, the only new business that opened up downtown was a Starbucks. On Third Street, despite a multimillion-dollar project designed to transform it into a "tourist district," the only new business that's opened is a 47-stool saloon whose owners needed to be bribed with $300,000 in public money in order to assume the "risk."

Tourists spend their money in the state park, not a cent of which benefits the city. They spend money at the Seneca Niagara Casino, and again the people of Niagara Falls are left out in the cold.

Is it any wonder that people are leaving the city at a rate of 1,000 per year? And the people who are leaving aren't the ones who are collecting public assistance, but the ones stuck paying for it. As the tax base shrinks, the fewer and fewer productive members of society are left to shoulder the increased burden.

Until city government makes a commitment to find ways of exploiting those 22.5 million tourists the magazines allege already come here, until they adopt a unified approach designed to encourage entrepreneurs based on criteria other than campaign contributions, the city will continue to spiral downward as it has for decades.

And the local daily and the denizens of City Hall will continue to encourage you to look on the bright side.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 4, 2011