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Governor Andrew Cuomo is shaking up his tourism agency to get more people to visit Upstate New York. The New York Daily News reports:

“The governor has made it clear that he’s not happy with the tourism effort to date,” an administration source said.

“He wants to do a better job with promoting, marketing and branding.”

(snip)

Cuomo, the aide said, wants a “more comprehensive effort” that could include ads, better coordination with tour operators, and close interactions with local economic development councils.

The initiative will start with the hiring of a tourism and economic development expert and additional staff.

The state might want to start with its I Love New York website.

Under “History and Culture,” if you click on “Finger Lakes,” you’ll learn about the Syracuse theater scene. Last I checked, Syracuse is in Central New York, not the Finger Lakes. The website shifts Central New York to east and parcels out the Southern Tier into other regions. Did the people who designed this site know anything about Upstate New York?

On the Finger Lakes page, there’s no mention here of the Susan B. Anthony House, Seneca Falls women’s rights convention site, George Eastman House, Strong Museum or the Rochester International Jazz Festival. There’s plenty of emphasis on the wine region, but you have to click on “cities and towns” to learn more about Rochester’s attractions.

How is this possible? Governor Cuomo, at least hire people who know basic geography. That tourism website is an insult to Rochesterians.

(If you want to know more about Rochester tourism, go here.)

Update: A state official told me Syracuse was purposefully selected to be in the Finger Lakes vacation region back in the 1980s. Also, the highlighted attractions rotate based on the season. “We don’t want people to think we forgot Rochester.”

Links of the Day:

– Governor Cuomo hasn’t visited Niagara Falls. Maybe it’s because residents are mad at him.

– There are huge political risks for Govenor Cuomo in the decision over whether to allow hyrdrofracking. States like Ohio and Pennsylvania won’t look kindly on a ban, should he decide to run for president.

– In an important ruling, the state appellate court in Rochester ruled a case against the gun industry related to a Buffalo shooting can proceed.

– Doctors are openly prescribing ADHD medication to children who don’t have the disorder, but don’t do well in school.

The computer mouse faces extinction.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Recently, I’ve had a run of meeting out-of-town visitors. Here are some impressions of Rochester:

1. Doctor Guy – I met him a few months ago at Tapas and I would have written an entire blog about him, but he wouldn’t let me. A single man in his 50s or 60s, he comes to Rochester a few days a month to volunteer at a local health clinic. His Southern Tier practice limits Medicaid and this is his way of giving back.

Coming to Rochester is like a trip to the big city. He enjoys staying in downtown hotels and going to local restaurants and bars. Every trip is an adventure. He follows local news and thought the Renaissance Square project would have benefited downtown. He’s also interested in what will happen to the Sibley Building.

2. Boston Guy – A single man in his 30s, he’s a frequent business business traveler. I met him Thursday at Matthews East End Bar and Grill, where the Inn at Broadway told him he could find a good meal and a TV to watch the NBA playoffs. He wasn’t in the mood for bar food (even though Matthews has good bar food). He wanted to go to a fine dining establishment with a TV and a Yelp score of at least 4 stars and 15 reviews.

“It’s a tried and true formula,” he said.

Needless to say, such a place doesn’t exist in Rochester. We found a lot of 3.5-star places, the kinds of restaurants I can’t afford on a regular basis. Not good enough for him.

“Rochester is not that great,” he told me. He described his rental car breaking down at Broadway and Edmonds St. and watching five drug deals go down while he waited for a tow truck.

Of course, I had to go about changing his mind. I convinced him to try a few places and end his night with a Garbage Plate.

He got into a cab with my itinerary and I am not sure how his evening turned out.

Update: I have been good-naturedly corrected to refer to Matthews as “standard American fare.” It is one of my favorite spots.

3. London Guy – I met this guy Friday in the sauna of the Maplewood YMCA. He told me he has family in the neighborhood and hadn’t been to Rochester in a few years.

“There’s not a lot to do in Rochester. I’m too old for the nightlife. It’s not safe to walk around,” he said.

I told him about local attractions. He already knew everything. It was getting too hot in there, so my pitch time was running out.

“I want to move to the states,” he said. “To Florida.”

4. Buffalo Couple – I noticed a man and his wife reading a downtown map at Tony D’s restaurant tonight. I asked what brought them to Rochester.

They hopped a train from Buffalo to Rochester to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. They had no specific plan. They just wanted to check out our city.

“We thought about going to Syracuse, but Syracuse doesn’t have anything on the water,” the wife said. “Rochester does. Took us a while to find it.”

They went to the Public Market and Lilac Festival. They ate at Dinosaur for lunch. In search of more waterfront, they found themselves at Genesee Brewery and made their way to High Falls.

“There’s nothing there,” the husband said. “And um, we have Niagara Falls.”

Did they have a good time?

“Now that we found our way back to civilization,” the husband said.

“I love the waterfront here, now that we found it,” the wife said, pointing to the Corn Hill boardwalk.

“Next year’s 25th anniversary deserves something better than Rochester,” my mom said.

“Better than Rochester? I don’t know,” the husband said. “You have a nice city.”

 

City of Rochester, Communication Bureau

The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival is one of the best Upstate success stories of the past decade. Last year’s 10th annual festival drew a record 182,000 people to downtown Rochester. The festival brings people of all ages and races together for a big 9-day party. It’s a wonderful thing for our city.

Festival organizers are holding a news conference Tuesday to detail what will be new this year. The footprint will be expanded onto a portion of Main Street, an acknowledgement Gibbs St. was getting way too crowded. We’ll also hear about the economic impact, an estimated $110 million since 2002. This year, businesses are organizing entire conferences around the Jazz Fest.

One measure of the festival’s success we will not hear about is how much money it’s making. RIJF LLC is a privately-held company. Revenue for music festivals comes from ticket sales, sponsorships and vendor sales. A spokeswoman wouldn’t say if the festival is profitable.

Before you say what RIJF LLC earns is none of our business, consider the fact the festival gets a lot of taxpayer dollars. At one point, the level of city support was $225,000. This year, it’s $175,000.

The festival doesn’t have to open its books to get that cash. Councilman Adam McFadden thinks that’s wrong, as some entities are required to hand over certain financial information in return for government support.

“It’s a great festival…I just thought when we’re giving them that much money, it makes sense,” McFadden said. “I don’t want us to be foolish in our due diligence.”

The $175,000 pays only for the cost of the free shows, including artists, stage, sound and lighting.

“We’ve reduced their money every year,” said Councilwoman Elaine Spaull, chair of council’s new arts committee. She said the payment could be scrutinized in the future. “One of things we’ve focused on is all the free stuff that they do. It’s very specifically for all of the free events.”

The city calls the $175,000 a sponsorship and monitors how the money is spent. It’s not concerned with how much money the promoters are making or whether they actually need the cash. As far as City Hall is concerned, the $175,000 is an investment with an enormous return in promotion for the city and tourism.

“Frankly we hope that the organizers make a lot of money as it will ensure the growth and resilience of the festival,” said spokesman Gary Walker in an email. He said the city’s support early on helped the festival explode.

If the city pulled the dollars, the festival could threaten to cancel the free shows and we’d all be really upset. The organizers do make money from the free shows from vendor sales. They could also try to get private sponsors to replace the city. But the Jazz Fest may now wield the same kind of power as a company promising to bring jobs in exchange for tax breaks.

When a festival has multiple sponsorships and sellout crowds, it’s worth at least asking if that level of taxpayer support is still needed. It doesn’t look like we’ll ever know.

Update following Jazz press conference: A couple more financial details about the festival: The county contributes $75,000. The festival organization has donated at least $44,000 to local political candidates and parties.

The festival started a 501(c)3 to continue its annual jazz scholarships to local students. The festival was getting offers from people who wanted to donate to the festival itself, an indication many people think it’s a nonprofit. Now people can donate to the charity.

Marc Iacona, a festival founder, said the government support is necessary for the free shows and pays for about half the cost. He said without the support, the free shows wouldn’t take place. At this point in the festival’s history, the public has come to expect quality free shows and he would like to expand the offerings in the future. He would not say whether he’s making substantial money from the festival.

Mayor Tom Richards told me (half-jokingly?) I wasn’t going to “spoil a good thing” by asking questions about the finances. He fully supports the city’s investment and won’t ask the festival to open its books.

More Links of the Day:

– Erie and Onondaga counties have been jumping for joy over sales tax receipts. They credit Canadians and higher gas prices, prompting me to ask if Monroe County is missing out. But year-end tax data shows Monroe County had a bigger bump in sales tax revenue from 2010 to 2011 than they did!

  • Monroe up 5.1%
  • Erie up 4.7%
  • Onondaga up 4.1%
  • Ontario up 3.4%

I’m not sure we can similarly credit Canadians for the increase in Monroe County,  given the geography and loss of the ferry. Do you see more Canadian shoppers and tourists around? Ontario County, home of Eastview Mall, didn’t enjoy a big increase. Higher prices, lower unemployment and a better economy probably have more to do with our revenue bump.

The statistics make wonder if Erie and Onondaga counties are giving Canadians too much credit.

Did you find yourself spending more money last year?

– Rabbit ears are making a comeback. People are rediscovering the antenna in the digital age, according to the Wall Street Journal. The picture comes in beautifully. Best of all, the broadcast stations are free. This is great for TV news. It could also further cord-cutting.

– We’ve discussed how Wegmans is looking into an urban prototype store. Many Rochesterians wonder what it will take for a grocery store to return downtown. Apparently, people in Buffalo wonder the same thing.

– Buffalo bars are giving away a boob job for Mardis Gras.

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

Links of the Day:

– The Buffalo Backlash started almost immediately when Tom Brady said the city’s hotels aren’t very nice. “They’re not the nicest places in the world,” the famous quarterback said.

Brady has since apologized.

A Buffalo News reporter said Brady was right!

The problem with what Tom Brady said about Buffalo’s hotels isn’t that he was mean.

It’s that he was right.

<snip>

Many locals viewed his comment as an unnecessary cheap shot and an inaccurate depiction of what the city has to offer.

Perception, however, is reality in many cases.

<snip>

Most NFL cities have five-star options like Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Renaissance.

All of this had me thinking about Rochester’s hotel options. We may not be entertaining professional athletes, but we have world-class businesses that do their fair share of wining and dining.

A quick search of AAA ratings shows only one four-star hotel, the Del Monte Lodge in Pittsford. All of the downtown hotels, including Hyatt, Radisson, Plaza and Inn on Broadway have three-star ratings. Those are all wonderful hotels, but is it concerning we don’t have more four or five star options?

I’ve honestly never heard any complaints. But then, Tom Brady has never been here. Oh wait…

– The state comptroller says Rochester has regained an astounding 98 percent of the jobs lost during the recession. Does Rochester feel like a boom town? Not really. Maybe that’s because the median wage has fallen and things weren’t so hot before the recession hit.

– Xerox has a nifty new scanner. It’s small, mobile and connects to Wi-Fi.

– Remember that solar company that promised 2,000 to 4,000 jobs? Natcore Technologies moved into Eastman Business Park last year. It’s ready to build a factory, but it might not be built here.

More Links of the Day:

– Local tourism campaigns have become such fun.

There was “Buffalo: For Real,” which spawned the hilarious #rocslogan Twitter meme.

We had the guys who created the snarky “Rochester Made” website.

A comedian’s “Iowa Nice” off-color video went viral.

But “North Dakota: Legendary” might take the cake. One of the campaign ads featured flirting women and men with a line about leaving the state a legend. It was pulled because it was deemed too sexy. ABC news interviewed a professor who said strong reactions to tourism campaigns are common.

You think?

(For the record, my favorite campaign was “I’d Rather be in Rochester. It’s Got It.” My least favorite is “Rochester: Made for Living.”)

– Buffalo has a lot of pizza joins per capita. The Buffalo news asks how they are all surviving.

Buffalo is CORF-ing when it would like to be BIRG-ing.

– There’s a small, but growing number of people speaking up about legalizing drugs.

– Should you be forced to buy health insurance? The Wall Street Journal’s dueling essayists are a good read.