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Ellicottvile Possible Location of Central Tourism Bureau
By Kathy Kellog (02/06/2009)

LITTLE VALLEY -- The notion of a centrally-located “Tourism Bureau” to help promote Cattaraugus County’s viable assets is expected to be a central topic of discussion Feb. 12 in a joint worksession of the Cattaraugus County Legislature’s Development and Agriculture Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee.

The topic first came to light Jan. 28 during a Development and Ag. Committee worksession and was then passed to the Strategic Planning Committee for review Feb. 3. The Tourism Bureau’s possible location in Ellicottville and other aspects of the proposal have also been the topic of serious discussion by chambers of commerce and others in recent weeks.

In a one-page outline presented by Development and Agriculture Committee Chairman Jerry E. Burrell (R-Franklinville-Dist. 5), the proposal is described as a restructuring of the county’s Tourism Department, which has for many years been the Economic Development, Planning and Tourism Department’s branch assisting community promotions located all over the county.

The Tourism Bureau would be governed by a 13-member group of representatives from each of the county’s ten legislative districts, two at-large representatives and the chairman of the County Legislature, a seat now occupied by Crystal J. Abers (R-South Dayton-Dist.1). The members would have to meet certain qualifications, such as marketing, business ownership or investing experience, and should demonstrate dedication to the “progressive and positive growth of Cattaraugus County.”
While Mr. Burrell cautioned that the plan could change as lawmakers fully discuss the idea, he pointed out that a Tourism Bureau could contract with the County for funding and that the county’s main source for tourism and economic development funding comes from Seneca Casino revenues and the hotel room occupancy tax. Funds would not likely be available until 2010, he added.

During the county’s 2009 budget preparations, lawmakers considered eliminating vacant positions of planner and development specialist for a cost-savings of about $85,000 at the suggestion of Joe Williams, the interim director of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism who also heads the Procurement Technical Assistance Program. In the final version of the budget the Legislature ended its tourism grant funding mechanism for tourism promotion and chamber groups, and placed the $200,000 allocation in a separate fund.

It is this pot of money, as appropriated in the 2009 budget, that will be requested Feb. 12 by some or all of the chamber groups from Ellicottville, Olean, Salamanca, Randolph, Gowanda and Little Valley.

Members of the Development and Ag Committee learned Wednesday (Feb. 4) from Mr. Williams that he had already contacted four of the chamber groups to seek support for his own proposal -- a separate funding request that would unite tourism promotions with the county’s efforts.

Jim Snyder (R-Olean-Dist. 10) asked if it was true that Mr. Williams had called Olean constituents to say the tourism promotion monies would not be available. Mr. Williams replied that he will make his detailed presentation Feb. 12 and said his department has never had money to properly market tourism until the Bicentennial Stagecoach and Wagon Train. He said he intends to present a combined funding request on behalf of his department, at least three of the four chamber groups, an arts group and possibly others, in an effort to unite tourism promotions.

“We have to talk,” said Mr. Snyder and Jim Boser (D-Allegany-District 7), who acted as chairman of the Committee meeting in Mr. Burrell’s absence, pointed out that this is a different approach than the Tourism Bureau.

Several Legislators expressed concerns about press reports that indicated the Tourism Bureau would likely be located in Ellicottville and that tourism promotions should not only benefit Ellicottville and Olean.

Brian McFadden, director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce, expressed support for an independent tourism bureau and urged taking the politics out of advertising. Mr. McFadden said the chambers will submit their proposals at the February 16th meeting.

He is optimistic despite the national economic downturn that successful winter conditions will continue in Ellicottville for a record season, pointed to the county’s record bed tax return in 2008, totaling $636,796. Mr. McFadden said he believes that “every penny of the bed tax money should go into” tourism funding.

“We as chambers are doing very well as an economic engine. We feel extremely positive that in poor economic times places like this we do well,” he commented, describing Western New York as one of the largest drive markets in North America and one that can be reached with a $25 tank of gas.
The Development and Agriculture Committee worksession will be held in the Legislative Chambers on the Third Floor of the County Center on Court Street in Little Valley.

In a conversation with Special E-Fects, Mr. Mc Fadden had this to say: “To be successful it (the independent bureau) must be highly visible and in a central area of the County. It must be structured to promote all areas of the County and be properly funded. It’s unfair to the business community of Cattaraugus County to have County tourism on the second floor of a building in Little Valley where tourists are asked to empty their pockets and go through a metal detector to get a map or brochure.”


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