NIAGARA FALLS – A dormant hotel ballroom has been transformed into a 14,000-square-foot, jungle-themed restaurant, giving downtown Niagara Falls its latest attraction.
A $3.5 million Rainforest Café opened Wednesday on Old Falls Street inside the Sheraton at the Falls.
In a city with a globally acclaimed waterfall aiming to grow its own tourism economy, the project is the newest step in providing activities for visitors, officials said.
“It’s a continuation of the process of getting more things for people to see and do in Niagara Falls, particularly family attractions which will get people from the park to come here and stay longer,” said Eddie Friel, director of the Falls-based Niagara Global Tourism Institute,
While millions visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, economic development officials acknowledge there needs to be more offerings here for visitors in order for them to extend their stay in the area.
The restaurant has seating for 238 inside, and 60 seats on the outdoor patio.
It is operated by NFNY Hotel Management LLC, which also owns the Sheraton at the Falls, which also has a T.G.I. Friday’s, Starbucks, an arcade and an ice cream and candy shop. The company also owns the Days Inn at the Falls.
The Falls location of the Rainforest Café is one of 24 nationwide in 13 states.
Michael DiCienzo of NFNY Hotel Management said the restaurant employs 200 people in total, equivalent to about 100 full-time employees.
DiCienzo – who is also vice president of development for Canadian Niagara Hotels, a prominent developer in Niagara Falls, Ont. – said his company has been working in the market since 1987. It already operates a Rainforest Café on the Canadian side of the Falls.
“We really believe in the market, we understand the market and what’s really lacking in the current marketplace is a high-quality, family attraction and a restaurant,” DiCienzo said, “and the Rainforest is a high-quality restaurant and a fantastic attraction for families.”
The project received a $150,000 grant from the Niagara Falls City Development Corp., the city’s banking arm that gives loans and grants to businesses. The city also demolished a portion of a city-owned enclosed walkway in order to open up part of the storefront for the project.
The downtown area needs more food and beverage offerings for visitors, and the Rainforest Café is not your average food and beverage establishment, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.
“When it’s warm and sunny in Niagara Falls there are lots of things for people do to,” Dyster said, “but when thunderclouds appear on the horizon, even on the Fourth of July weekend or when the sun goes down, or God forbid if you’re here in January or February and it turns a little bit cold, it’s always fantastic to have some place for people to go, where you can especially find entertainment for a family.”