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Editorial: Make it a joint study

A Minneapolis consulting firm still does not like the idea of constructing a new multi-use facility for sports, conventions and concerts in Niagara Falls. For now. It's a smart conclusion.

In the meantime, Falls officials should upgrade. Put more money into the Conference & Event Center in this tourist city. Boost attractions and lures to draw more visitors before building such a multi-use venue.

But city officials also need to think more broadly. They should consult with Erie County stakeholders with an eye toward building a multiuse facility serving the region. Separate studies examining the same issue makes little sense when the areas are within a 30-minute drive of each other.

The final report by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International called for Niagara Falls to quickly upgrade the existing facility and then to work on bolstering the city’s tourist attractions. The feasibility of building a moderately sized building in downtown Niagara Falls for concerts and some sports remains questionable.

The final version of the report was released at a County Legislature committee meeting last week. It mirrored the negativity about the project found in the draft report, which was obtained by The News last fall. Richard Palladino, business manager of Laborers Local 91, is displeased. Palladino wants construction jobs.

The consulting firm recommends against building any multiuse venue until at least 2023. Even then, it concluded, a 30,000-square-foot structure would cost up to $40 million and would operate at a loss – as much as $240,000 a year, even if the building housed a minor-league sports team. The loss would jump to $525,000 a year with no similar tenant.

Bottom line: a larger arena would not be economically viable. The same goes for a standalone convention center. A building twice as large as the current structure would cost up to a whopping $75 million. Fixing the interior and exterior of the existing building, which the report strongly recommended, would cost $5 million to $7 million. It also suggested a 250-space parking garage at a cost of $6.25 million.

The Conference & Event Center was supposed to be temporary. That leads back to the discussion of another aging and underperforming structure in downtown Buffalo. Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz proposed a study last year. And for good reason.

The Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, opened in 1978, is tired. The city, county and, therefore, region lose out on hosting conventions because of its age and limitations. This is happening when Buffalo is hot. It is among the 52 Places to Go in 2018, according to The New York Times. The convention center? Not so much.

The proposed study to examine market needs and possible locations of a “bigger and better convention center,” was earmarked at $150,000 last year. Then the price went up. A couple of weeks ago, Erie County lawmakers were slated to vote on allocating an additional $65,000 for an expanded study that would look at two additional, unidentified sites. Instead, they sent the request back to committee. With the Niagara Falls study recommending against immediate building and the Erie County study still pending, the two regions have an opportunity to get together to look at a project that could serve the needs to both. That’s what they should do.

This is the kind of thinking that overtaxed and forward-looking communities should embrace. Ultimately, there may be reasons not to proceed on a joint facility, but that’s what a study would reveal. Government leaders, who should always be concerned with efficiency and restraining public costs, need to look at all reasonable possibilities — especially when both interests could serve one another.

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