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State of emergency ‘had downward impact’ on eclipse attendance in Niagara Falls: mayor

Click to play video: 'Eric Sorensen’s total solar eclipse expedition'
Eric Sorensen’s total solar eclipse expedition
Seeing the total solar eclipse in-person depended on more than its path of totality, as weather conditions played a key role in getting the best view. Eric Sorensen moonlights as an eclipse chaser for a day, road-tripping through eastern Ontario to experience the extraordinary event – Apr 8, 2024

The mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont. says even though Monday’s solar eclipse produced the largest outdoor crowd the city has ever seen, he believes it could have been larger if not for a regional state of emergency declaration.

Jim Diodati characterized the event as “incredible and outstanding” with an estimated 200,000 descending on the city core, surpassing the 150,000 that watched tightrope walker Nik Wallenda cross the falls in 2012.

“We did the official police count … and definitely blew that number out of the water,” Diodati revealed. “We didn’t hit that million we originally expected for a variety of reasons.”

Diodati admitted grey skies Monday morning were one factor, but also contended that the March 28 declaration from Niagara Region under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act “definitely had a downward impact” on attendance.

“So a lot of people instantly started cancelling rooms, started cancelling dinner reservations, and the hotel association called me,” said Diodati. “They were pretty upset that this happened … especially without consulting the city.”

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Janice Thomson, president & CEO of Niagara Falls Tourism, says it will be at least a week before they receive numbers and be able to gauge what effect the crowd had across the city.

However, she suggests the words “state of emergency” was an “unfortunate phrase” to use ahead of the celestial event suggesting it may have come across as concerning for potential visitors.

“We did an awful lot of interviews explaining it was administrative terminology and wasn’t reflective of the situation here on the ground,” Thompson said. “But it was hard to get that message out. I imagine it did have some effect, but it’s hard to quantify.”

The regional government is facing a legal challenge over use of the declaration following a filing from the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) seeking a judicial review.

“The CCF is deeply concerned about the proliferation of declarations of emergency in situations where no genuine emergencies exist,” the group said in a statement issued April 5.

Niagara Region CAO Ron Tripp says use of the edict freed up much-needed “resources on the ground” and allowed for the streamlining and coordination of first responders.

“Certainly it was much more intense as we approached the event, requesting enhanced support,” Tripp explained.”The declaration formalized the importance, the urgency and the degree of preparedness that was required.”

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He used Bell and Rogers deployment of additional resources, like mobile towers to supplement phone quality, as an example of what the declaration brings to keep 911 emergency services robust with so many in such finite spaces across the city.

“So I don’t believe we would have seen that degree of deployment from the telecom entities without the state of emergency,” Tripp suggested.

Both telecoms say they handled around six times the amount of traffic they normally do on a Monday in the Falls.

Demand for hotel rooms in the city began to peak in mid-March as dwindling availability equated to prices as high as $1,000 a night for higher-end rooms.

But Diodati said partners reported cancellations in early April right after the declaration.

Venues like the Hilton Niagara Falls, Embassy Suites and Holiday Inn by the Falls had room packages available heading into the weekend before the event.

“It was the Thursday before the Easter long weekend, so there was no chance to respond,” he said. “It just went out and it really started trending because everyone was asking, why are you doing this? What’s the emergency?”

The eclipse brought some measured positives to local businesses as technology company Square says people who made it flocked to local restaurants.

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Sales data from payments showed the influx of visitors resulted in 404 per cent higher sales than the average Monday for 2024.

Tripp says the declaration will likely mean the region will incur some incremental costs for mobilizing of first responders.

It’s unlikely any of that will be recovered through an application to the province seeking financial aid through the declaration since there was no reported physical damage to the community.

“So making those submissions are usually during very severe weather events and you see damages within your communities,” he said. “I’m not sure I would compare this when it was more just about incremental resources.”

Diodati says the eclipse is now the biggest event in the city’s history, and the international attention bodes well for the Falls and invariably for Canada.

“It puts us back on that travel pattern for tourists around the world,” he submitted. “It’s a big world and everyone’s competing for tourists. This just gave us a leg up on everybody.”

– With files from the Canadian Press

 

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