Niagara Gazette


January 7, 2007

LOOKING ELSEWHERE: Teacher conference passes on Cataract City

An apparent lack of quality hotel rooms has eliminated the city’s chance to host the annual New York State United Teachers Conference, which would have pumped millions of dollars into the local economy.

Niagara Falls Teachers President Joseph Catalano has lobbied the past six years to bring the annual policy-making convention back to the Cataract City following a disappointing visit in 1999. That year, conference attendees were put off by some unfriendly treatment they say they received from local hotels and businesses.

“They swore they would never come back,” said Catalano, who serves on the conference committee.

Meanwhile, the 525,000-member union booked the summer gatherings alternately at New York City and Washington, D.C. — both of which proved to be too costly and not as convenient as organizers had hoped. Last year, the conference moved to the Rochester Riverside Convention Center and pumped an estimated $5 million into that city based on hotel rooms, meals, transportation, entertainment and shopping.

A few bad experiences in Rochester created an opening for Catalano to convince committee members to give Niagara Falls another look. During a recent tour of the Conference Center Niagara Falls and local restaurants, the city left a positive impression — enough to convince members to agree on bringing the convention here in 2009 and possibly again in 2012.

“Teachers from New York City love coming to Niagara Falls, they can’t believe how low the prices are for such quality food,” Catalano said, adding he took the group to the Como Restaurant during the tour and lunch for eight people came to about $60. “In New York, that might be the cost for one person’s dinner.”

More than 3,000 union members, including teachers, retirees, college faculty and health care professionals, were expected to attend the four-day conference in Niagara Falls. Catalano said that left him and officials from the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. trying to book around 2,500 hotel rooms in the city and nearby locations.

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