Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center
Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center was an indoor multi-purpose venue in Niagara Falls, New York, with a capacity of 10,000 people. It operated from 1973 to 2002.
The venue was built as part of an urban renewal project in the city. It actually was built in the center of a main thoroughfare, Falls Street, and blocked traffic to the falls. It also eliminated Jefferson Avenue and Erie Avenue, two main thoroughfares.
The building was designed by Johnson/Burgee Architects. Its arched design, which detractors say resembles an overly large Quonset hut, was inspired by the rainbows commonly seen at Niagara Falls, according to architect Philip Johnson. It was opened in 1973 to much fanfare.
It was home of the NCAA's Niagara Purple Eagles men's basketball team from the time it opened for the 1973-74 season through the 1981-82 campaign. The Purple Eagles went back to campus for five years to return again in the 1988-89 season and stay until 1996. Their last game at the Convention Center was a victory over Siena (79-77).
In 1974, 1975 and 1976, the convention center hosted the Miss USA competition.
The former Convention center served as a world-class entertainment venue, during past Festival of Lights celebrations and throughout the years.
The venue, thought by many to be too large for the city, struggled from the day it was open, and was blamed for contributing to the economic decline in Niagara Falls and the depletion of the city's finances over the years. Although it was the largest off-season tourist attraction in the city, it struggled until it was closed in 2002. It was sold to the Seneca Nation of Indians in 2002, and renovated into the Seneca Niagara Casino and later added on to by the Seneca Nation. The original facilities were replaced by the smaller Niagara Falls Conference Center, almost directly across the street to the West.
Monster Jam tragedy 1992
On March 8, 1992, the USHRA Monster Jam Circuit had a show at the center. During a race between Taurus and Bad Medicine, Bad Medicine's driver, Don Van Loo, had a bad landing from off the set of cars. He smashed his head against the rollbar and was knocked out. The truck was still moving at the time, and preceded to veer out of control and crash into the stands, killing 82-year-old Lester Gilliam. Gilliam could have saved himself, but instead pushed a young child out of harm's way, sacrificing himself. Van Loo was not new to being knocked out during a run: a year previously, in Oklahoma City, when Bad Medicine was making its debut, Van Loo's truck leaped into the air and took a bad bounce. The impact knocked him out. His foot accidentally fell onto the throttle, which sent the truck ramming into the wall.
In 2002, the convention center was closed, modified and re-opened as a gaming casino, Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel which now occupies the site.
- "2008-09 Niagara Men's Basketball Guide".
- "82-Year-Old Man Is Killed at Truck Show - New York Times". Nytimes.com. 1992-03-09. Retrieved 2012-04-30.