NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Niagara County and Niagara Falls leaders have received the results of a study about the feasibility of building a new multi-use convention center in the city.
Its takeaways: Downtown development needs to grow to sustain a bigger convention center, and the best option would be to expand and modify the existing one.
"The county wanted to see if this was feasible for Niagara Falls, and it looks like at this point that wouldn't be the way to go," said Jason Zona, a Niagara County Legislator.
Zona is a democratic county legislator for Niagara County's fifth district, which covers some of the city.
The study, made by an outside agency, called Conventions, Sports & Leisure, recommends improvements to downtown's landscape, cleanliness, and it says that added development would be needed to help attract big events to a larger conference center.
The study also said the city needs more indoor and outdoor activities for families.
"Most importantly, winter activities, and I agree 100 percent, and that's something I'm hoping that on the county end, maybe we can help with down here," Zona said. "We want to extend the tourist season here. Tourism is the main industry here."
During the busy season, Niagara Falls hotels are at about 80-90 percent full. But the other seven months out of the year, they're only 40 percent full, suggesting there isn't a big demand in the off-season.
Zona said the success of Third Street would need to be more widespread before the city had a demand for a new facility.
The most feasible option, the study suggests, is expanding the current conference center on Old Falls Street to accommodate between 4,000 and 6,000 people with the ability to partition it into smaller spaces. It would cost between $20 and $40 million.
"I think that's doubling down on a bad idea. This facility is not in the best location in the center of downtown. This street, Old Falls Street, was designed for walkable retail, food, entertainment," and not a conference center that takes up a block of that space, Zona said.
As we've reported before, Niagara Falls is cash-strapped, and leaders hope upcoming projects, such as a proposed indoor water park and a concept called "Wonder Falls" will help the city compete better with the Canadian side.
So how would the city pay for a conference center upgrade?
Tom DeSantis, Niagara Falls' city planner, says this project is a big "if."
"Certainly for the city, I can say that going forward, we're going to rely more on state and federal assistance and certainly expect more from private developers," he said.
Niagara County, Senator Rob Ortt's office, and the City of Niagara Falls all chipped in to pay for the study when it was first commissioned last year.