BUFFALO, NY – Work on a long-awaited, comprehensive study on the future of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center has begun, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Poloncarz told WGRZ-TV on Friday that consultants hired to do the $150,000 study visited Buffalo on Oct. 3 to begin their task of assembling a report, a draft of which he expects to be produced by the end of this year.
The study will explore options on renovating the nearly 40-year-old Convention Center, or expanding it —possibly by adding additional floors. It will also include data to determine whether it might not be best to build a new one, something Poloncarz estimates would take several years, and hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Convention Center opened in 1978 and there is concern, with all the new hotels and other attraction in downtown Buffalo, whether it has kept pace enough to continue to attract large groups of visitors when they choose their meeting destinations, and spend considerable sums on rooms and meals.
Poloncarz says it is vital that the report provides an accurate measure of the needs of Buffalo going forward.
“We need to determine what type of facility would be appropriate for our market,”” said Poloncarz. “We are not going to compete with New York City or Orlando for convention business, but we can compete with such peer cities as Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Columbus and others if we have the appropriate facility in terms of size and amenities…and we’ll know what the costs will be.”
If You Build It, Will They Come?
A travel summit held here this week brought tourism types involved in the convention trade from across the country to Buffalo, to see what it had to offer.
And while they had some nice things to say, participants were near unanimous in their assessment that the Convention Center is a glaring weakness.
"I think that one of the great components that would really build this city in the meetings management opportunities is the potential of either a new, or greatly renovated or expanded convention center," said Harry Schmidt, President and CEO of the Religious Conference Management Association, whose agency assists churches and religious organizations to select convention sites.
“The accessibility of a modern, walkable convention center I think it could be a great plus for you here," Schmidt said.
"They (meeting planners) recognize the deficiency that we do have in our Convention Center," conceded Patrick Kaler, President and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. “It is the most obvious deficiency that we have in our destination right now, in that it doesn't match up with the expectations a meeting planner would have for a convention center."
“That’s not surprising, said Poloncarz said . “Which is why my administration is doing the analysis.”
On an October night in 2010, after being closed for most of that summer, the Convention Center re-opened after a $7 million dollar renovation.
Now, seven years later, Poloncarz has budgeted another $500,000 for next year for improvements, on top of the $1 million spent this year.
"If we don’t invest in that facility for today, we will lose conventions and other businesses we could get in 2017 and 2018…you can’t just let the place rot,” Poloncarz said.
Should a need for a new Convention Center be identified, Poloncarz said he would primarily seek funding from New York State to underwrite the cost.