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Niagara Falls tourism leaders want to bring back Festival of Lights

NIAGARA FALLS – The Festival of Lights used to draw thousands to downtown in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and to its convention center and Winter Garden.

Both the convention center and Winter Garden are long gone, and so is the Festival of Lights.

But in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the Winter Festival of Lights continues to grow and draw tourists. The Ontario festival says it attracts more than one million visitors each year.

Lisa Vitello, Tourism Advisory Board chairman, said Monday she traveled to Ontario's festival earlier this month. She returned feeling bad about the loss of the festival in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"When we came back across the bridge it was sad – so sad," said Vitello. "We have a few deep pockets in this town that maybe we should start tapping."

Vitello said the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is funded by businesses, the government and the Ontario Power Authority. She said New York's Niagara Falls should follow the same formula.

Board member Gay Molnar said the board unsuccessfully tried to recruit sponsors three years ago to revive its festival. Molnar said the board needs to have a business plan for the event. She volunteered to meet with Ontario planners to look at how they developed their Festival of Lights.

Councilman Kenneth Tompkins said lighting up Pine Avenue, the city's main business district, should be a priority.

In another matter, the Tourism Advisory Board got some good news from city tourism liaison Thomas Tedesco. Tedesco said a certificate of occupancy has been issued for the upscale Double Tree Hilton, 401 Buffalo Ave., which had been under construction for more than a year and a half. He said the 192-room hotel has begun taking reservations for Jan. 1.

"This is a great project and will bring 192 mid-scale to upper-scale rooms to downtown Niagara Falls and 16,000 square feet of space for  meeting and planning.  They will also have a steakhouse – the Parkway Prime Steak House," said Tedesco.

Also, Tedesco told the board that a plan for the revitalization of the historic Hotel Niagara should be announced very soon by the USA Niagara Development Corporation. No specific date has been announced.

USA Niagara Corps, a subsidiary of Empire State Development, announced it would take requests for proposals in August. The 12-story Niagara Hotel, at 201 Rainbow Boulevard, built in 1924 and on the National Register of Historic Places, has been closed since 2007.

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