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Niagara Falls tourism takes a huge leap forward

A rendering of the new Rainbow Centre Mall.
Empire State Development
/
USA Niagara Development Corporation
A rendering of the new Rainbow Centre Mall.

It was a big day for tourism in Niagara Falls Tuesday. A set of actions let Destination Niagara USA take over management of the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls and Old Falls Street, while a public hearing unveiled renderings to "reimagine" the former Rainbow Centre Mall.

The Event Center is a facility that gets a lot of use on the shoulders of the tourist season, while Old Falls Street is intended to be an attraction for tourists and locals near the cataract itself. The plan for the old Rainbow Centre is to better mix it into the neighborhood than be the massive double-block it is now.

USA Niagara President Anthony Vilardo said the Rainbow Centre has a vital summer asset: parking.

"This Rainbow Centre is a piece of public infrastructure, right? It will routinely park over 1,400 cars. So, for example, the Hyatt Place across the street doesn't need on-site parking because they can rely on the Rainbow Centre for it. Potentially, a development across First Street could use the Rainbow Centre for parking," he said.

Vilardo said starting next year, the Rainbow Centre will be broken out through some selective demolitions of two plazas.

"One on First Street. One on Rainbow Boulevard. We're going to connect those through this pedestrian street in the middle point and create leasable space on the north and south side of that walkthrough," he said.

Six elements to be added to the Rainbow Centre Mall.
Empire State Development
Six elements will be added to the Rainbow Centre Mall.

State Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said moving forward is good, after years of inaction.

"These lands were laying fallow for many years. There was controversy. There was arguments. Nobody wanted to do anything. Then this mall was stalled for, I believe, four years or promised to a developer from Buffalo for a splash park, which ended up not only not happening. It killed a number of potential rallies there," he said.

Niagara Falls City Councilmember Frank Soda told the public hearing the mall was an example of the urban renewal wanted everywhere.

"Anchored by a convention center at one end of the downtown and an urban mall at the other end of the downtown with a pedestrian walkway, and to accommodate the weather, there's a tunnel from the convention center to the anchor hotel and a covered walkway that became problematic in terms of maintenance and security," he said.

Vilardo said the key reason for letting Destination Niagara run the event center and Old Falls Street is that's what it does and it has a good operating staff worth holding onto when the contract with Spectra Venue Management runs out at the end of the year.

He said the value of the Event Center is actually in the convention and meeting business.

"Its prime months are outside of what you would consider the traditional tourism season," he said. "So they will start hosting a fishing expo here in January. This is where the St. Patrick's Day celebration is that the Ancient Order of Hibernians host here in Niagara Falls. So this building really thrives in what will be the shoulder season."

Of course, everyone wants more tourists and Tuesday's announcement that the U.S. will begin allowing fully-vaccinated nonessential travel from Canada into the country next month is a good sign.