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Consultant says Niagara Falls should upgrade conference center

The City of Niagara Falls should move quickly to upgrade its existing Conference & Event Center while considering construction of a new multiuse venue in the future.

That was the final verdict from a Minneapolis consulting firm hired by Niagara County to study the feasibility of constructing a moderately sized building in downtown Niagara Falls that could be used as a venue for concerts and some sports.

The final version of the report, released at a County Legislature committee meeting Wednesday, was almost as negative about that project as the draft, which was leaked to The Buffalo News last fall. It still recommends waiting until the city's year-round attractions are beefed up before moving forward with the multiuse venue.

Richard Palladino, business manager of Laborers' Local 91, was the man who has pushed hardest for a multiuse facility as a means of creating construction jobs and making more year-round events to Niagara Falls.

"That's too bad that they're thinking short-term," Palladino said. "I find it unfortunate that they take these positions, but that's the history of this city. Canada is going to continue to surpass us, and it's too bad."

A timeline graphic in the report by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International set 2023 for the beginning of work on such a project, which was the same time frame the consultants recommended in the first version of their report.

Such a building would cover about 30,000 square feet, seat 4,000 to 6,000 people and cost $25 million to $40 million, the report said. It projected annual losses of $242,000 a year if the building had a minor league sports team as a steady tenant, and $525,000 a year if there was no such tenant.

The study said a larger arena would not be economically viable, and neither would a stand-alone convention center. Erecting something twice as large as the Conference & Event Center would cost up to $75 million.

"The level of potential incremental convention demand for the Niagara Falls market does not appear to support this type of investment," the report said.

But it strongly recommended $5 million to $7 million in interior and exterior improvements to the center, offering space that could be more easily subdivided to enlarge the types of events it could host. The report also suggested a 250-space parking garage for $6.25 million.

"The Conference & Event Center was supposed to be temporary when it was built," said Patrick Proctor, chairman of the city Tourism Advisory Board. "Just call it a permanent building."

The Old Falls Street center was built by the state to host events after the former Niagara Falls Convention Center was repurposed as the Seneca Niagara Casino in 2002.

"You can't go wrong with upgrades, for sure," Proctor said.

"Myself, I would not invest (in the Conference Center)," said Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls. "In my opinion, that was poor planning, not looking toward the future."

He said the land on Old Falls Street should have been used for retail.

"My belief is still that's the wrong building, the wrong location," Zona said. "I don't think we should be doubling down on the same mistake."

The consultants disagreed, saying the conference center site offers "walkability to area hotels, restaurants and the Falls.

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