News

Convention centre growing in popularity

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Niagara Falls city council was recently given an update on the Scotiabank Convention Centre, which has seen growth in the number of events it has hosted since opening in 2011.
(NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW FILE PHOTO)

Niagara Falls city council was recently given an update on the Scotiabank Convention Centre, which has seen growth in the number of events it has hosted since opening in 2011. (NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW FILE PHOTO)

Canada’s dominant leisure destination has also become the best meeting destination, says Noel Buckley, president and general manager of the Scotiabank Convention Centre.

“We are the dominant leisure destination in Canada, generating more international demand than any other leisure destination in the country,” Buckley recently told Niagara Falls city council as he updated politicians on how the Stanley Avenue facility is performing.

“But part of rounding out a destination is becoming a destination that attracts more than one type of visitor. The best leisure destinations in North America are also the best meeting destinations. We have become that.”

He said since opening six years ago, the centre has significantly grown in the number of event days it hosts — from 140 in 2011 to 282 in 2016.

The centre has an annual economic impact of $93 million.

Buckley said the facility’s net revenue has also followed that upward trend.

“If you take a look at where we were in 2011 and 2012 when we first opened, you can see that our net revenue was a net negative cashflow position. But if you look at what happened in 2014, 2015 and the most recent year of 2016, we’re generating net revenues in the neighbourhood of $1 million, or $800,000 to $1 million. We have a fully funded lifecycle reserve of about $1.45 million,” he said.

“We will be able to look after the lifecycle costs of our own building, and we meet with your director of finance regularly … to ensure that the city’s asset is well protected and well maintained, and have a funding reserve as we move forward because there will be lifecycle costs as we move forward.”

Buckley said over and above the $1.45 million the centre has in restricted lifecycle assets, the facility is also “sitting on a surplus right now of about $2 million.”

“Between the two, we are at over $3.5 million right now and we’re in a comfortable position from a financial perspective.”

Buckley credited city council for pushing for a convention centre more than a decade ago, which led to public and private support years later.

He also credited the centre’s board of directors, including councillors Wayne Thomson and Vince Kerrio, who are “looking after the asset and ensuring that it’s properly funded and doing well.”

The centre opened in April 2011, a month earlier than expected and also under budget.

It was a mix of public and private money that made it happen: $35 million from the federal government, $35 million from the provincial government, $35 million from local partners such as Falls Management Company, the Fallsview BIA, Victoria Centre BIA and Niagara Parks Commission.

Buckley said in 2016, centre officials took a look at what they were doing and how they were marketing the facility.

He said the centre recently hosted the Canadian Payroll Association, who noted the convention in Niagara Falls was the largest gathering of their membership ever, attracting members from across the United States and Europe “particularly because it’s in Niagara Falls.”

Buckley said there are around 125 wineries located within 50 kilometres of the centre.

“We will be the best at wine and culinary for a facility of our size, or a large banquet facility, anywhere in the country. We can put together an accommodation block that almost no other destination in the country can, other than Toronto.”

Buckley said there are at least 5,000 four-star branded hotel rooms within walking destination of the centre.

“There isn’t 5,000 four-star branded hotel rooms within the Montreal convention centre, within walking distance of Quebec, or Calgary, or Edmonton, and not even Vancouver, but there is at ours, so we tell meeting planners about that, and the ease of doing business at our facility.”

He said the centre attracts three types of business: corporate, including the likes of McDonalds, Staples and Sobeys; associations, including the likes of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and the Assembly of First Nations; and trade show/large events, including Niagara Falls Comic Con.

Buckley said Cheer Evolution, Canada’s largest cheer and dance event company, has signed with the centre until 2022. 

The event generates “tens of thousands of room nights for the destination,” he said.

Buckley said Global Legacy Boxing will bring prize fighting back to Niagara Falls, at the centre.

“We’re very thrilled to have them coming back and hopefully developing a longer-term relationship with Global Legacy Boxing, Les Woods and Lennox Lewis, as we look for another avenue of business.”

He said the centre’s growth has led to the board deciding to create more space for more events.

“In 2016, our board approved completing some space that was roughed in, but never finished — approximately 10,200-square-feet on the 200 level, just outside the administrative offices. We’re going to finish another 10,000-square-feet of space, create five more break-out rooms. As we begin to attract more conventions and more meetings, we’re pressured to have the right amount of break-out space for the amount of exhibit space we have.”

Mayor Jim Diodati said the centre was one of the “missing pieces of the puzzle” to developing Niagara Falls’ shoulder season of tourism, a point Thomson had been advocating for years, going back to when he was mayor.

“That’s exactly what’s happened,” said Diodati.

“I’m down there regularly bringing greetings for conferences. I hear first hand right from organizers, they’re thrilled with what’s going on, with how they’re being treated.”

Coun. Mike Strange said the venue is “awesome,” adding those who attend conventions often bring their families.

“Some people are going into the conventions (and) the families are enjoying the attractions, filling our hotels, filling our restaurants — and it’s top-notch events, Comic Con, concerts and even boxing now.”

Thomson said the city promoted the need for a convention centre for about 20 years.

He credited Buckley, who was named centre president and GM in 2015, for taking the facility to the next level.

“You’ve seen the scale and I just want to mention Noel Buckley is a key element to the success that we’re having at that facility, and what we’re doing in the community generally with tourism and creating jobs.”

rspiteri@postmedia.com



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