Niagara Falls allocates $50,000 to study possible future arena

Feb 9, 2017

The City of Niagara Falls has set aside money to help fund a study that will determine whether a new downtown event center or arena might be in the Cataract City's interest.

The city's $50,000 allocation for the study matches similar amounts provided by State Senator Robert Ortt's office and the Niagara County Legislature.

The Seneca Niagara Casino, located in the foreground, was formerly the Niagara Falls Convention Center. The city replaced the large structure with a smaller conference center, but some are now questioning whether a newer, larger event center might be in the city's best interest.
Credit WBFO file photo

Niagara Falls currently has the Conference & Event Center, built to replace the convention center it once had, before the latter was acquired by the Seneca Nation to become its casino. City officials praised the conference center for its amenities but some say that is too small to hold the major attractions that would attract the rising number of tourists coming to Niagara Falls.

"We've a conference center which is beautiful and it's good for conferences, but we have nothing to put in good, big events," said Niagara Falls Councilman Kenny Tompkins. "You know, bringing in a big name concert. We used to have rodeos and tractor pulls and basketball games and wrestling. We don't have an area big enough for that at this stage."

The former Convention Center hosted numerous large events. Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan performed there in the 1970s. Niagara University men's college basketball staged a major upset of then-number one St. John's in the mid 1980s. Circuses and other events visited the venue. But critics said the building was too big for a city of that size and current mayor Paul Dyster adds that it was very expensive to maintain.

It's why he supports the idea of a study. He says while tourist numbers and hotel stock are rising, and the city moves forward with numerous plans to build new attractions, it's important to find out whether the city could afford to build a new larger venue.

"It cost us roughly $1.2 million a year net to operate," Dyster said about the former convention site. "This is not something one should venture into without doing a feasibility study."

Councilman Tompkins said a new event center or arena, which he told WBFO was first brought up as a what-if by the Niagara County Building Trades Council, would not necessarily be just for the city. The study, he suggested, might also determine whether it should be a county, state or privately run venue. Like Dyster, Tompkins is willing to spend $50,000 now to learn whether spending millions more in the future is really a good idea.

"This is a smart way to do business," he said. "The smart way to do business is to make sure it's warranted, to make sure that it has a very good chance of succeeding before you go ahead. What do figure a convention center is going to cost? Ten million? Twenty million? That's a lot of money."

A timeline for completion of the study was not yet determined.