Several key indicators suggest the 2015 tourism season has been a busy one so far.
During a press conference Wednesday at Conference Center Niagara Falls, state and city officials suggested the American side of the Falls has received far more visitors this year when compared to the entire 2014 season.
They based the assessment on figures compiled by Niagara County's tourism agency — the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. — which has reported a year-to-date increase of 154 percent in visitation to its official visitor center on Rainbow Boulevard downtown. The NTCC assisted 11,687 guests in June, representing a 100-percent increase from the same month a year earlier. August posted even higher numbers, according to NTCC officials, who indicated that the visitor center saw 22,763 people compared to 7,679 in August of 2014. That's good for a 196-percent increase, officials said.
Sam Hoyt, regional president for the state-run Empire State Development Corp., said local hotel occupancy has increased 5 percent and the average daily rate for hotel rooms is up by more than 2.3 percent so far this year.
"This is very indicative of what's happening throughout the Niagara Falls destination this summer," he said.
Hoyt and other officials credited the improved numbers to a variety of factors, including the success of marketing efforts being employed by the NTCC as well as recent infrastructure improvements and private investment projects that have improved the general appeal of the downtown area.
The announcement was made on the eve of today's primary election, which involves key races for Falls mayor and available seats on the city council. The press conference included incumbent Mayor Paul Dyster who is facing a challenge for his position from fellow Democrat Glenn Choolokian. A trio of Republican hopefuls for mayor will also square off in a GOP primary today.
On Wednesday, Dyster touted several projects that he believes have helped to improve the downtown landscape, including the decision by the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp. to tear down the old Wintergarden building as part of the redevelopment of Old Falls Street. Dyster noted that the strip is now being programmed on an annual basis for various activities such as a free family film series held this summer. Later this week, the strip will host the Niagara Falls Blues Festival and an Octoberfest event is slated for next month.
The mayor also noted that several new hotel projects have either been completed in recent months or are now in the works, with roughly 1,000 new hotel rooms still slated to come online under the current plans.
One of those projects, dubbed Wonder Falls, is currently under negotiation between the state and the preferred developer, Uniland Development Co. It calls for the construction of a multi-story hotel, entertainment venue and daredevil attraction on the vacant portion of the old Rainbow Centre Mall building.
Another anticipated project - the new Hyatt Place being planned by the Buffalo-based Hamister Group for Rainbow Boulevard - is still on schedule to break ground this fall, according to Dyster.
"The skyline of Niagara Falls is going to change as you get more and more of these developments taking place," Dyster said.
Officials are expecting ongoing work to reconfigure both the southern and northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway to have additional impact on the community's appeal to tourists and residents alike.
"A new Niagara Falls waterfront is taking shape and, along with it, will be a new tourism section in Niagara Falls," Dyster said.
Dyster and state Assemblyman John Ceretto, D-Lewiston, both said they remain in contact with aerialist Nik Wallenda and remain hopeful that he will be involved in some type of permanent attraction in Niagara Falls - perhaps as part of the Wonder Falls project - someday.
Ceretto conceded there's no "concrete" plans for a Wallenda-based attraction at this point, but insisted discussions are ongoing.
"His heart is here always in Niagara Falls and he always relates that to me," Ceretto said.
Numbers from the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. show:
• A 154 percent increase in visitation to the official visitor center on Rainbow Boulevard
• 11,687 visitors were assisted in June, representing a 100-percent increase from the same month a year earlier.
• 22,763 people were assisted in August compared to 7,679 in August of 2014 — a 196-percent increase.