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Dec. 7, 2019 | Saturday
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UPDATED: Councillors give NOTL chamber $15,000 advance for Royal Winter Fair expenses
Eduardo Lafforgue is the president of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Editor's note: The $15,000 the town is giving the Chamber of Commerce to help cover expenses at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is an advance on the town's regular annual allocation to the chamber. It is not a grant or additional money. An earlier version of this story did not make clear that it is an advance.

Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors have voted to give the NOTL Chamber of Commerce a $15,000 advance to help cover expenses for the chamber's participation at the annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.

Chamber president Eduardo Lafforgue made a presentation to council's committee of the whole on Monday night explaining what the fair is about and how NOTL's exposure would benefit the town.

The Royal is the largest indoor agricultural fair and equestrian competition in the world and is held over two weeks in November.

The media coverage of the fair is “very, very impressive,” Lafforgue said, and the demographics at the fair are close to what the chamber is trying to attract. Forty-seven per cent of attendees are families and adults with children, 60 per cent of whom are female visitors, he said.

“Visitors to the Royal represent the most interesting demographic for NOTL,” Lafforgue told councillors.

The chamber is planning to be at the fair for 10 days. It will set up a 40-by-10-foot booth in the Heritage Hall's high-traffic area, promoting winter activities in NOTL. Some of the planned winter events in town include the Candlelight Stroll, Fabulicious, NOTL Christmas Parade, Ice Wine Festival and ice skating at Fort George.

The chamber is hoping to attract 30,000 visitors to the booth.

To get the best of NOTL’s participation at the Royal, the chamber's booth will distribute samples of icewine, food and beer, offer small giveaways, tasting vouchers, contests and feature performances by chefs and culinary professionals. The chamber will also be collecting emails to increase its database and boost the attendance of “qualified visitors” to NOTL.

“Instead of just being there, we are going to be there with experiences,” Lafforgue said.

Expenses would be $33,966 and would include brochure design and printing, staff expenses, utilities, equipment rental, parking passes, and more. The chamber asked the town for a grant to cover $20,000 of these expenses. That would have left the chamber with an operational deficit of about $14,000, which the organization will cover.

The town only agreed to contribute $15,000 toward expenses but made it an advance on the chamber's 2020 allocation from the municipality,  not a grant. The chamber received $118,000 from the town this year.

“This event is an opportunity that wasn’t in anybody’s budget. The turn the Royal is taking on tourism with a spotlight on local is new, so that’s why we’re participating for the first time,” Lafforgue told councillors.

He said he wasn't asking the town to cover marketing costs but rather its expenses.

There was some confusion about whether the chamber was asking for an advance from the town’s 2020 budget or if the request came as an addition to the annual funding. Lafforgue said he’d prefer if the money was a grant or incremental funding on top of what the chamber receives annually.

Some councillors, like Wendy Cheropita and Stuart McCormack, objected, saying when the request was brought up at the last council’s meeting in September, they believed the chamber was asking for an advance.

Coun. Erwin Wiens added the council should say No because the town doesn’t have “any money.”

“The hard thing is to say No and we have to say No here. There are other ways for them to get their funding, too,” Wiens said. “We can’t be everything to everybody.”

Coun. Gary Burroughs said the town needs to have a workshop with the chamber and the board to better understand their relationship.

"And what they think it is, and what we think it is. And come out of it understanding what they should be funding and what they shouldn't," Burroughs told councillors.

Councillors passed a motion from Coun. Clare Cameron to give the chamber the $15,000 advance and to ask an agricultural committee member and Grape King John Fedorkow to attend the fair. Another motion was passed to hold a workshop with the chamber to discuss the roles of that organization and the town in tourism.

The decisions still need formal approval from council at its next meeting Monday, Oct. 21.

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