The following guest opinion article by local entertainment and promotions executive Christian Printup appeared in the Niagara Gazette on August 29, 2023:
I am a local boy, a proud son of Niagara Falls. I’ve worked in a handful of different places in the U.S. over the years — including, for the past seven-plus years, at Seneca Gaming Corp. as senior executive director of Entertainment and Special Events. Soon I’ll start a new job in Connecticut.
I love Niagara Falls and want to see it grow and prosper. And, particularly as an entertainment executive, I’ve been watching this events center vs. data center debate here in Niagara Falls with great interest … and more than a little concern.
Here’s my view (and since I’m leaving, I don’t have any particular dog in this fight, except that I want my hometown to succeed): First, financial resources in the City of Niagara Falls are limited so, I don’t think the city is making a very smart business move in trying to take NFR’s land and what promises to be a long eminent domain fight winding through the courts. Time is money, and even if the city wins, it will be paying top dollar for a venue that may not pay for itself.
The arena size being discussed is probably too large, and — in my experience— the location will face challenges booking enough dates to break even, never mind pay the debt service on the funds borrowed to acquire the land and build. You have to look at location and size. If you get the size right, and put it in the right place, you can be a better option for touring shows and promoters who want to maximize the profit from each date who may even consider “playing in New York without incurring the costs of New York.” and who are the anchor tenants going to be? Minor league hockey? A local university? Neither will provide enough dates to underwrite the facility nor can they afford the rent unless it is subsidized by the city. I have negotiated the rental of numerous venues all across North America during my career, and while I think an arena somewhere in Niagara Falls could potentially work, I don’t think it’s a case of “If you build it, they will come” at all. I think the various arenas and event centers In Buffalo, and Niagara Falls, Ont., would get most of the shows that the currently proposed arena would need to succeed. Because they can either pay a guarantee to the tour promoter, or offer more revenue potential by virtue of having more capacity. I.E, an act that can sell out a 7k venue, can surely do more than 7, and would in most scenarios go to the arena in Buffalo if everything else is equal.
On the other hand, technology and data are the future. Data is the new oil. Niagara Falls should be thinking about the future, not the past. This is why Urbacon’s Niagara Digital Campus idea makes sense. Yes, the Niagara Falls brand is synonymous with tourism, honeymoons, events and entertainment. But even those fields are becoming data-driven as well, and the infrastructure for broadband access, streaming and AI technologies will be a necessity for all fields of sports, entertainment, gaming and in-person events. Beyond the jobs it will bring, a Niagara Digital Campus in Niagara Falls will bring with it the framework to set our community up as a cutting-edge destination — and not just for entertainment and tourism, but for all the tech-related enterprises that the future holds.
Let’s create that framework now, while we have the chance, and in the process provide career-making jobs for Niagara Falls residents in cloud/data storage, telecommunications, block chain, cybersecurity and other fields. As we transition from the end of the industrial age to the technological revolution, there’s immense opportunity for creating new jobs, and attracting people and companies from all over the world — so long as political leaders aren’t stuck in old paradigms. I read about people complaining about the noise from the Bitcoin mining stations on Buffalo Avenue. In my mind, we should be more focused on working out agreements with these miners to see the city earn a share of the digital assets currently being mined in town. Too many people fail to see the bigger picture about development and the ever-changing world.
As a community, let’s not be Kodak, by clinging to the old ways, disbelieving that change is all around us and suffer more financial ruin as a city. While it is marginally possible to have a profitable events center, if we don’t take advantage of the technology opportunity Urbacon is bringing to us, we can’t blame NFR or anyone else for that.
Again, I’m leaving for a new role with a new company, but I doubt I’ll be gone for good. The Falls is in my blood. I want to one day come back to a community that is thriving and growing, with a mix of high-tech, tourism and entertainment that makes us the pride of Western New York. If we can get the Niagara Digital Campus data center up and running, I feel we have a great shot. But only if we make the right moves now, zoom out a bit and see the big picture, and leave the fighting behind.