Modified: October 8, 2018 2:23pm
By Mark C. Poloncarz Should Buffalo and Erie County be in the convention business? Should we build a new convention center, and if so where? A community-wide discussion on these topics is underway following the release of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center Study and you are invited to add input as it continues.
Earlier this year, my administration commissioned a market and feasibility analysis study on the redevelopment of our Convention Center. It was recently completed by HVS Consulting and included research on the convention market in Buffalo, an analysis of the overall Buffalo-Niagara market, historical operations at our Convention Center, comparable venues and operations, and potential sites for a redeveloped convention center. The study’s findings provide a starting point for all county residents to work from as we consider our next steps.
Our current Convention Center is 40 years old this year, and despite the positive changes we’ve seen locally not much has changed at the building. The same small ballroom, limited meeting space, and inefficient layout remain in downtown Buffalo while other, comparably-sized cities have built convention facilities that surpass what we have to offer. While the study regarded our Center as “functionally obsolete” and unable to meet the minimum standards for today’s conventions, other cities like Milwaukee, Richmond, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids all have new centers suited to the needs of modern convention attendees.
The study outlines the need for much larger exhibition and meeting spaces that are more flexible and adaptable to handling multiple events at once. It also highlights the need for additional hotel rooms to accommodate more visitors and notes the significant economic impacts a new Convention Center could have on the local economy. Larger, more numerous conventions would bring more visitors, generate more hotel room nights and increase direct spending at restaurants, bars, and local attractions. The study also explores potential sites and ideas for how a new convention center could fit into our community landscape, if we decide to do anything at all.
But this study is just the first step on the journey. The big question remains: do we want to remain in the convention business? If not, then we can continue to operate this current facility even as its systems continue to age and as convention business goes elsewhere.
However, if we do want to remain in the convention business, doing nothing is not an option. If we want to showcase the progress and economic development we are seeing locally to new and larger audiences, we will have to act. We are living in the 21st century New Buffalo – the New Erie County – but still have a 1978 Convention Center.
The need is real, the decisions are critical, and the time is now to have an honest discussion about what this community wants. Comments will be accepted through December 19 so join the conversation by visiting http://www2.erie.gov/ and please offer your opinion.