The owners of downtown's Journey's End All-Suites Hotel have signed a deal to convert the three-year-old property into a Radisson Suites Hotel.

The franchise conversion also brings new life to the adjacent Market Arcade complex, as space within the city-owned Main Street property will be leased for Radisson conference rooms.

"This is something I've been working on really for 10 years," said James A. Cosentino, president of the corporations that operate both the new Radisson and the TGI Friday's restaurant located in the property's first floor.

A longtime Buffalo-area hotelier, Cosentino also was part of the partnership that brought Journey's End and Friday's to downtown Buffalo.

Cosentino's partnership will lease between 5,500 square feet and 6,000 square feet of space on the first two floors of the old George & Co. and Market Arcade buildings for conference rooms in the arcade complex.

A new 30- to 40-foot-long climate-controlled walkway will connect the hotel with the complex.

"We will be responsible for construction and financing of the Arcade space, but we are negotiating right now with the city on securing a (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) Section 108 loan for a portion of the cost," Cosentino said. It's hoped the space will be open next spring.

"We're very excited about the benefits this project brings," said Daniel Bicz, Buffalo's development commissioner. "Having a hotel of the caliber of the Radisson downtown will certainly bring value to tourism and convention marketing. Second, this is part of a multifaceted approach to improving the Theater District. And it certainly makes sense to have the hotel and Friday's under Cosentino's control."

"I'm ecstatic," Mayor Masiello said. "We need critical mass in the Theater District, and the Radisson, a well-known, marquee name, certainly helps us with that. I think that the Radisson and the Theater District is just a great marriage."

Cosentino is no stranger to the Radisson nameplate. He converted his Ramada Renaissance Hotel on Genesee Street across from Greater Buffalo International Airport to a Radisson Hotel & Suites in 1991. And that conversion was an impetus for the move from Journey's End.

Radisson executives are pleased with the change.

"Buffalo has been a strong market for Radisson; I believe the occupancy level at the airport hotel has increased by 10 points (into the 70-plus percent range)," said T. Peter Blyth, executive vice president of development for Radisson Hotels International. "We've had substantial success at the airport, and the downtown Friday's likewise has been functioning very successfully."

Radisson and Friday's are both part of the Minneapolis-based Carlson Cos. conglomerate.

Cosentino said owning and operating two Radisson facilities within minutes of each other poses no problem, as the Genesee Street location previously has been forced to turn away guests.

Blyth admitted that Radisson actually was interested in the site at Main and Chippewa streets even before Cosentino signed a deal with Journey's End.

"We were late getting involved," he admitted.

The switch to Radisson should help increase business at the downtown property, immediately tying the hotel into Radisson's extensive worldwide telephone reservations network.

"When I signed with Journey's End, they had big plans to expand in the U.S.," Cosentino said. "Then the market went bad and they had trouble getting financing."

It didn't help Cosentino's push to fill the downtown hotel when Belleville, Ont.-based Journey's End and Choice Hotels of Silver Springs, Md., formed a joint venture that converted all Journey's End properties to the more familiar Choice designations, including Comfort Inn by Journey's End and Quality Hotel by Journey's End. The Buffalo hotel was the last to keep the Journey's End name.

"When Journey's End became Choice, there went my reservation system," Cosentino said.

"Journey's End has very little name recognition in the U.S., while it is much better known in Canada," said Cheryl Boyer, assistant vice president in Landauer Associates Inc.'s Hospitality Group. "Radisson has the name recognition domestically."

With the change to Radisson, Choice Hotels Canada will now have just one property in the United States, compared to 173 in Canada.

Radisson, on the other hand, has more than 300 hotels worldwide, including 180 in the United States and 10 in Canada, according to the 1994 Directory of Hotel & Motel Companies.

Name recognition also could help the new Radisson's occupancy level, which Cosentino said averages 60 percent. For all Erie County hotels through the first four months of 1994, the average occupancy rate was 57.6 percent.

Ms. Boyer said Journey's End generally is perceived as a good quality, economy chain with limited food and beverage and meeting room service. The Radisson is known as a mid-priced chain, offering for the most part full-service amenities, which usually include food and beverage service and meeting and conference rooms.

That is what made it necessary to expand the seven-story property.

Enter the City of Buffalo. The city benefits because the new Radisson's need for additional space forced Cosentino to spread out -- and into the Market Arcade complex.

As envisioned by Cosentino and his partners, the Arcade facility will include board rooms, hospitality suites, a concierge area and health facilities. All will be located adjacent to the state's planned visitor's center.

"We see the inclusion of the Radisson in the Market Arcade complex as jump-starting the project," Bicz said. "This kicks off our leasing program."

Expansion into the Arcade allows Cosentino to come full circle. He said that about 10 years ago his development group helped secure U.S. Urban Development Action Grant funding to renovate the Market Arcade complex and construct what would be the Journey's End.

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