Niagara Gazette — One of the largest gaps between Niagara Falls, U.S.A. and Niagara Falls, Ont., involved one of the key elements of any tourism destination: Quality hotel rooms.
To date, there are 3,000 hotel rooms on the American side and the majority of those — roughly 66 percent — are considered economy lodging or independent, non-franchise properties. Those numbers compare less than favorably to Canada where there are roughly 16,000 hotel rooms, the bulk of which are considered high-end.
It has taken many years and substantial amounts of effort and investment from both the public and private sectors but now it finally appears as though our side of the border is positioning itself to become a more substantial player in the upscale hotel market.
In a matter of months, literally hundreds of new hotel spaces will be open to visitors on the American side. If all goes as planned, more than 950 new high-end rooms will be available to tourists by the end of 2015.
Seven projects currently under way or in the planning stages represent an investment of more than $90 million, mostly in the downtown area. The list includes upcoming renovations at the old Fallside Hotel and Conference Center ($18 million) and the Days Inn on Niagara Street ($10.9 million) as well as planned new hotel developments, including a $9.6 million Wingate proposed by the Strangio family and local hotelier B.F. Patel’s $9.5 million project on the site of the old Moore Business Forms building off Buffalo Avenue. In addition, negotiations are still underway with the Hamister Group to build a new $25 million hotel on Rainbow Boulevard and Toronto developer Harry Stinson is still working on a $20 million effort to reopen the arguably the most iconic property of them all - the old Hotel Niagara.
New and renovated hotel space represents a positive sign of growth in a community that has been thirsting for it for years. It also sends a signal to the larger development community that Niagara Falls, U.S.A. is a place where investors can find and develop worthwhile projects.
There’s still much work to do, but it is encouraging to see investors — both from the Falls and from outside the city — recognizing the potential for growth in our community.
Equally important is the potential for the additional, upscale hotel space to allow Niagara Falls, U.S.A. to better capitalize on larger and more prominent conferences as event organizers often choose locations based on the availability of quality accommodations.
We welcome and encourage the private investors who have stepped forward to enhance the hotel offerings in the Falls and, by extension, offer residents jobs needed to run such establishments.
Of course, these investments likely would not have happened without support from the local and state governments, including the city, the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp. in downtown Niagara Falls and the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
While we are ever cautious when it comes to providing lucrative tax breaks for private investment projects, we remain confident that the public investment in the local hotel industry will offer benefits for years to come, both to area taxpayers and the millions of tourists who year after year ask themselves an all-important question: Should we stay in Niagara Falls, U.S.A or consider the alternative just across the Canadian border?