A new era for Niagara

The Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls held its official opening ceremonies on April 8,...

The Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls held its official opening ceremonies on April 8, 2011. (MIKE DIBATTISTA/QMI AGENCY )

JOHN LAW, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:09 PM ET

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- The dream is finally open for business.

It took three years to build the Scotiabank Convention Centre Niagara, but it took more than 20 years to envision it. And when it threw open its doors to the public last week at long last, the prevailing mood was ... relief. No more pining for a convention centre -- the city has one now. On to the next dream.

"This is the beginning of a new era in Niagara," said the centre's president and general manager Kerry Painter, who got the party started by leading a marching band down the escalator to the podium. She danced a bit. She couldn't stop smiling. She fought back tears a few times.

For Painter, who spent countless days and nights preparing for this moment, it felt like a major hole in Niagara Falls' armour had been fixed.

People will no longer say, "If we only had a convention centre ... It's the piece of a puzzle that's already here," she said. "It was not 'Build it and they will come,' it's 'They're already wanting to come.'"

The "missing piece" motto came up a lot, from Mayor Jim Diodati, to former mayor and current councillor Wayne Thomson, to Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor. None have known a Niagara Falls that wasn't wishing for a convention centre. Some longer than others.

"I've been around so long, I remember when this convention centre was just a dream," said Amy Bignucolo, the facility's chairwoman who jokingly referred to herself as a "dinosaur."

So be it. A mix of public and private money made the project finally happen: $35 million from the federal government, $35 million from the provincial government, $35 million from local partners like the Falls Management Company, the Fallsview BIA, Victoria-Centre BIA and Niagara Parks Commission.

With a 1,000-seat theatre, second floor lounge, banquet hall and eight meeting rooms, the building on Stanley Ave., isn't just for tourists, Painter stressed. Important moments in people's lives will happen there, too.

"We are the new alternative for citizens to enjoy," she said.

The focus on everything new amused city historian Sherman Zavitz as he looked out the massive front windows: Across Stanley Ave. is one of the city's oldest buildings, the Loretto Academy.

"It's kind of funny," he said. "This big new convention centre ... and there's an 1870s building right across the street."


Videos

Photos