NIAGARA FALLS – Hotels in downtown Niagara Falls have been booked to capacity over the past few days, and depending who you ask, it had little to do with Erendira Wallenda's stunt on Thursday morning.
The Daughters of the Nile, a fraternal organization for women who work to raise money for Shriner Hospitals throughout the U.S. and Canada, with one located in Mexico City, hosted its annual convention at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls from Sunday to Thursday.
The event drew more than 1,500 people into the city for what is being described as the largest such convention to take place at the center since its opening, following the closure of the old Convention and Civic Center in 2002.
"I think (convention attendees) enjoyed being here in Niagara Falls, a lot of them were able to take advantage of a lot of the attractions in the area," said Bobbie Cap, general chairwoman for the convention and a Grand Island native. When asked what having a convention of this size means for the city, she said "it shows we can do it and we can do it well."
During the conference, most of those in attendance spent their time in session, going over news about their organization and discussing the amount of money they were able to raise in the past year. Cap said that amount hit $2 million, which will be donated to helping children struggling with ailments at Shriner Hospitals, which treat orthopedic conditions.
Convention attendees said they had the opportunity to explore the city during convention activity off time. Several said they got the chance to get out and enjoy some of the restaurants on and around Old Falls Street, including at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, and explore some of the tourist activities the area has to offer, like the Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist. Some even had the chance to visit Canada while they were in town and the Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie, Pa.
One convention attendee was Laura Ochs, who said she was last in Niagara Falls about 10 years ago. She said the city seems to have undergone some positive changes in the past decade.
"This is the second time we've been here," said Ochs, who came with her husband. "I think it's changed quite a bit, I think it's grown a lot. I did seem that Niagara Falls had lost a population of 5,000 (people), I'm aware of that, but I don't see it."
Ochs and her friends Gyleen Peloquin and Sue Lundquist, who all came to the Falls from St. Paul, Minn., all said the convention was a success. They also enjoyed getting to see what Niagara Falls had to offer. In particular, Lundquist said she enjoyed the local architecture, especially that of older area churches, saying it reminded her of churches in Europe.
Another guest, Carole Rea Littleworth, came all the way from Fresno, California with 18 others for the convention. She also said she enjoyed the area where the convention was held and said while she was busy at the convention, she did have the chance to get out and experience the city.
"I like the area that we're in and I like it down by the Falls, it's very pretty," she said. "We did the the Maid of the Mist and we did the fireworks, we walked over into Canada, and that's pretty much all we've had time to do."
Cap said that the convention was organized with help from the Conference Center, Destination Niagara USA and several local hotels, including the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino, the Sheraton, Double Tree and Holiday Inn. John Percy, president and CEO of Destination Niagara, said the event was expected to have an economic impact of $2 million and said the success is due to the collaborative efforts of all involved.
"Having a group in town like this is successful for all of us," he said.