Six years in the making, Niagara Fallsview opens

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NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario -- The Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort celebrated its grand opening here this month, but the impact of its presence on Fallsview Boulevard was felt long before the first wager was made or the first hotel room was occupied.

Six years in the planning, the $800 million, upscale casino-resort has spurred unprecedented growth in this area's tourism sector, according to Victor Ferraiuolo, vice president of the Niagara Falls Tourism, Visitor and Convention Bureau. Ferraiuolo said he expects the resort to help boost tourism to the area from the current 14 million visitors per year to 20 million by 2010.

The resort was conceived as a permanent replacement for the 98,000-square-foot Casino Niagara that opened in late 1996. Last April, however, the provincial government announced that the older casino will remain open.

"Independent market studies indicated that there was market capacity for the additional property," said Jim Dougan, president and chief operating officer of the Falls Management Co., which developed and manages the new property.

Dougan said he believes the area's recent spurt of development is a direct result of gambling's arrival.

"From the introduction of Casino Niagara to the development that has spun off of [the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort's] going in, it's really quite phenomenal.

"The Hilton wasn't here [prior to the casinos], the Embassy Suites [wasn't here]. The Marriott was smaller, the Radisson was a smaller version, the Sheraton was small -- they've all either renovated or built new properties. A Crowne Plaza is going up, a Doubletree is going in just down the road; all are the results of [the Niagara Fallsview] and its 374 rooms."

That number of rooms may seem small in comparison with the size of the casino -- 200,000 square feet, which resort officials said is larger than that at the 5,000-room MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

"That was part of the province's development agreement with the city to help promote that this property is really a destination, a magnet to draw people to the area," Dougan said. "Other businesses can also participate in this property's success, mainly the other hotels and restaurants. That was sort of the key strategy."

Of all the Fallsview's attributes -- and there are many, as I discovered during a recent hardhat tour of the property -- perhaps the best is its location on a 23-acre site overlooking the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the border and the American Falls on the U.S. side.

All of the guest rooms in the hotel, which is affiliated with Hyatt Hotels, face the Niagara River. Of the property's 374 guest rooms, 90 are suites and nine of those are designated VIP suites.

Standard room rates start at around $200 per night.

Other venues in the property also offer grand views of the falls, including a 750-seat buffet restaurant and the Galleria, which features nearly 50 retail shops and food outlets.

The casino reminded me of the gaming floor at the Bellagio, with its handpainted ceilings and crystal chandeliers.

Other resort features include 50,000 square feet of meetings and exhibitions space, a 15,000-square-foot spa and fitness center and a 1,500-seat performing arts theater.

The property will add a wedding chapel to its roster, probably within the next six months, Dougan said.

For more information or to book, call (888) 325-5788 or visit www.discoverniagara.com.

To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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