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Bob Elliott on Heritage Tourism

October 8, 2009

To the editor:

NOTE: The following is the text of my letter to The Gazette dated Sept. 3, 2009:

Given that tourism is New York State’s second largest industry, I expected the broad plan I described in last week’s letter to receive wide acceptance. As usual, a small coterie of anonymous proponents of the Harmon Plan pooh-poohed it, arguing wildly that it would not work. No respectable newspaper will publish unsigned, irresponsible comments. Initially, the plan only requires integrating Croton more closely with existing organizations to promote the new trend called “heritage tourism.”

I’d like to call a single expert witness in defense of tourism as a solution worth trying. Robert W. Elliott, seven-term mayor of Croton-on-Hudson from 1991 to 2005, and founder and past chairman of Historic River Towns of Westchester, a consortium of thirteen river communities from Yonkers to Peekskill. Under an inter-municipal agreement, this umbrella organization focuses on waterfront development, tourism and main street economics in a bottom-up approach to regional planning.

Bob Elliott authored the New York Conference of Mayors Sustainable Communities Initiative. He is the former Chair of the Hudson Valley Tourism Development Council and served as the Vice Chair of the New York Main Street Alliance. He has been the Director of Economic Development, as well as head of the Industrial Development Agency for Westchester County. Bob was also President of the Westchester Convention and Visitors Bureau. I’m sure readers will acknowledge his credentials.

On April 4, 2005, while still the mayor of Croton, Bob spoke on the subject of tourism at Buffalo’s Martin House Restoration. A five-building complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his Prairie Style and built from 1903-05, this powerful architectural magnet attracts visitors from all over the country. No transcript exists of Bob’s presentation, but a Buffalo News reporter was there, and his news story captured some of the highlights.

Mayor Elliott described how communities in a picturesque 50-mile stretch along the Hudson River are working together, without being restricted by geographical or organizational divisions, with the objective of offsetting job losses and economic stagnation that have afflicted much of upstate New York. According to him, a major thrust of this “bottom-up approach to regional planning” has been the development of heritage tourism as an economic lifeline.

This makes eminent good sense, Bob pointed out. Tourism is the state’s second largest industry, and local governments (except in Croton) and groups are working together to promote the region’s history to older, middle-class travelers who constitute the primary market for heritage tourism. The special breed of “heritage tourists” stays longer, visits twice as many places and spends twice as much. “They’ve even come to see the Hudson itself as a tourist draw,” he added.

As part of his slideshow, he projected a color slide of the Half Moon on the screen, the brightly colored replica of explorer Henry Hudson’s little ship, under full sail. Above the photo, the caption read: “It’s the river, stupid.” He closed with, “It’s one aspect of regionalism that has been proven to work.”

The defense rests.

— Robert Scott, Croton-on-Hudson


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