Opinion

HEROD: The not-so-humble folks of Niagara Falls

By Doug Herod

Doug Herod

Doug Herod

Niagara Falls boosters do not do understatement.

Rather, they specialize in hyperbole.

The latest example came from a ceremony held this week to announce the selection of a consortium to design, build, finance and maintain a new 5,000-seat entertainment centre for the casino.

The theatre is a great get for the Falls.

Although not quite the 7,000-seat facility they had been lobbying for lo these many years, it stands to reason the new theatre will attract bigger acts, entice more people to the Falls’ tourist area and solidify the Fallsview Casino as a major tourism driver.

Plus, the construction itself should significantly boost the local economy.

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Alas, there are those not content to bask in the glory of the above-noted goodies.

Take, for example, Joe Dicosimo, a member of the consortium’s team.

Flush with excitement over the theatre, Dicosimo said Niagara Falls is now positioned “to become the entertainment capital of Canada.”

That’s right. Canada.

What exactly is in Niagara Falls’s drinking water?

I mean, I understand the whole World’s Most Famous Address thing. The cataracts are a legitimate international draw, known throughout the planet. Millions come to visit each year. Over the past few decades a number of interesting attractions have set up shop in the tourist district.

And, yes, it has a couple of casinos, which provide entertainment of sorts for a particular kind of crowd. But what they offer is far from everyone’s cup of tea.

Soon, it will have a 5,000-seat theatre, presumably featuring acts that appeal to casino clientele. After all, this is an Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. initiative. The OLG wants your money and the government agency gets it by attracting people to the casino and keeping them there for long periods.

Again, it’s a great addition to the tourism landscape and should allow Niagara Falls to keep up with the Joneses.

But the entertainment capital? Of Canada?

Humility, thy name is not Niagara Falls.

The  conventional wisdom of the deep thinkers at this week’s lovefest was that the new theatre will bring bigger and more quality shows to Niagara Falls. As earlier noted, that’s a fairly reasonable assumption to make. I’m not sure it’s a lock, though.

People have different tastes, of course. But a look at the upcoming entertainment calendar for the similarly sized theatre at Casino Rama didn’t exactly knock my socks off.

True, Orillia doesn’t have a large surrounding population to draw from. On the other hand, being somewhat isolated means it’s not competing with other centres for acts.

I’m vaguely aware the economics of running a casino theatre are different than those for a regular theatre. Casino acts can be loss leaders to bring in the gambling crowd.

So, the difficulty the St. Catharines Meridian Centre has had in consistently booking big-name stars in a crowded municipal market doesn’t necessarily foretell a similar experience for the Niagara Falls theatre.

Don’t get me wrong. The Meridian Centre has been a huge success in drawing top-notch sporting events to St. Catharines. And I was way wrong in suggesting early on that a 4,000-seat arena would have been an adequate capacity for the puck palace, which has reached its capacity of 5,300 and beyond on numerous sporting occasions.

But despite the fact it can hold 6,000 people for certain entertainment acts, it has underwhelmed on that front.

(By the way, does anyone else find it odd that the project cost for the Meridian Centre which broke ground in late 2012 was $50-million and less than five years later the purported cost of the 5,000-seat casino theatre is $131 million? Reality or more hyperbole?)

Maybe the new casino theatre and the Meridian Centre will be pursuing different entertainers. They can’t be that different, though, can they? I mean there are only so many acts out there. Given the casino’s ability to absorb theatre losses for the greater gambling good, the Meridian Centre may be facing an even tougher road ahead.

Time to step up city boosters.

Start calling St. Catharines the Entertainment Capital of North Niagara and Beyond.