Niagara Falls City Councillor and former Mayor, Wayne Thomson believes that for a successful tourist destination three essential factors are required.
“If you are going to have a tourist destination you need a casino, transportation, and a convention centre,” says Thomson.
Over the last 50 years, Thomson has committed himself to making Niagara Falls the place where each year millions of tourists visit by promoting tourism and municipal projects.
“We used to have the magic 100 days where the tourists came after the May long weekend until September and take a picture by the Falls before they went to New York. Then everyone would be laid off,” says Thomson. “We were not a place to stay.” Thomson knew there needed to be attractions to entice the tour
ists to remain in the city for longer than a day. “Marineland was one of the first places that accomplished this,” says Thomson. “John Holer, the late owner of Marineland, was responsible for 57% of the overnight stays, which was unbelievable,” says Thomson.
First elected to City Council in 1968, and Mayor from 1970 to 1983, Thomson, “learned very quickly that Niagara Falls was not the industrial community it was 25, 40, 70 years ago. All the jobs we had relied so much on disappeared.”
“In 1991, in the middle of a deep recession, I was elected Mayor of Niagara Falls for the second time,” explains Thomson. “When I went around to different labour groups, I was criticized and asked what I was doing to create more jobs,” explains Thomson, who knew in order to improve the unemployment rate in the city the tourist industry would need to pick up the slack by attracting more visitors to Niagara Falls.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before Thomson was in the right place at the right time. “I was driving in my car listening to a radio interview with Finance Minister, Floyd Laughren, who said there would be an opportunity for border t
owns that are affected by cross border shopping to be considered for a casino,” says Thomson, who devoted the next three years to lobbying for a Casino in Niagara Falls. Throughout the process, Thomson remained cognizant of the thoughts of the community by listening to concerns of community members and municipal polls “We had a publicist on the municipal election and results of the city poll showed 64% of the community said we need a casino. We need jobs!” recalls Thomson.
In 1996, Thomson recalls people lining up down the street waiting for the doors of Casino Niagara open. Thomson is pleased by the thousands of jobs that have been created by the casinos and the benefits to the entire community. “It became a crane city of high rises. Each hotel created 2,500 jobs and that was the turning point and success of the city,” says Thomson.
“We are the most fortunate municipality in Ontario because the casino gives the municipality a percentage of the winnings,” explains Thomson. “Last year they handed us $26 million dollars and I think that is going to continue.”
Next, Thomson set his goals a bit higher for the city. “I have previously been the Chairman of Scotiabank Convention Centre,” says Thomson. “I worked hard and now we have a very successful Convention Centre. Convention Centres are not supposed to be financially stable, they are supposed to create rooms. e Scotiabank Centre, which was created with no debt is making a pro t annually, which is highly unusual,” explains Thomson.
“I worked for years on a monorail system that would go through the city,” says Thomson. “It would have gone through the hotels and to all the major attractions for convenience: especially in the winter months,” says Thomson, who was disappointed when the proposal was declined by the stakeholders. “ The WeGo system, which has worked out successfully, now runs to Niagara-on-the-Lake connecting Niagara Falls to the wine regions.”
With his three major aspects accomplished, Thomson focused on sustaining the future of the tourist industry. “Those are three of the things I worked the hardest on. What we concentrate on now is marketing the destination properly,” says Thomson. “We have 14 million people coming here and it seems to be growing. It tells you how much the tourists enjoy the beauty of the Falls and there is much to do after that.”
“It is an exciting time to visit Niagara Falls,” says Thomson. “We have the zip lines going down in front of the falls, a new 5000 seat theatre, and a race car attraction,” says Thomson. “Where else can you fly a helicopter over the falls, take boat ride up to the falls, and jet boats through the rapids? All exciting and interesting things to do. We cater to everybody,” he adds.
Thomson is anticipating how changes made by the Liberal Government will affect the city. “Now that cannabis has been approved it will have a huge impact,” says Thomson. This may increase traffic coming over here because marijuana is legal in Canada.”
Thomson’s desire to help others is evident in his advocacy work, often sitting on many charity and community boards. “I enjoy the social aspect of dealing with people. I drive home every day and I think I helped an individual get a new sidewalk in front of their home or I helped someone with their hydro bill,” says Thomson. “It may seem like an insignificant thing, but to them it is big. Being on City Council you have to be available, return phone calls, and find solutions to help them.”
Thomson’s excitement for the job of City Councillor hasn’t diminished over the years. “I think you have to have a passion for doing this kind of work,” says Thomson. “With my background in the health department I dealt with people’s problems, concerns, and issues,” explains Thomson. “That is why it was an easy transition for me.”
Tourism isn’t the only focus that Thomson has a zeal for. He is committed to advocating for lower taxes, improving infrastructure, promoting a new industrial park, adding exercise equipment to public trails, and replacing 10 municipal parks.
Commitment to community initiatives has remained the core of Wayne Thomson’s philosophy throughout his long standing career in municipal politics. Thomson is proof that consistency and persistence are the keys to making sound changes and advances in Niagara and keeping the city, as Thomson calls it, “A vibrant spectacular destination.”
“I get the most satisfaction out of what we have created here in this city and what opportunities still lie ahead,” says Thomson.