Walk-in traffic at the Buffalo Visitor Center in the Market Arcade increased 65 percent this summer from a year ago, prompting tourism advocates to suggest that downtown's revitalization is more than just hype.
Center manager Denise Drews thinks several regional draws accounted for an additional 3,725 people visiting the Market Arcade site over a three-month period that began in June.
"The Shea's expansion was one of the biggest factors. We had a lot of people coming into the Visitor Center before the shows," Ms. Drews said.
The relocation of the Irish Classical Theatre, the Monet exhibit that attracted record-setting crowds at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and architectural walking tours offered by a group affiliated with the University at Buffalo also generated walk-in traffic at the center, Ms. Drew said.
She added that a growing number of local residents have been stopping in the center to pick up tourism materials for upcoming visits by friends and relatives.
The recent opening of the Angelika Film Center and Cafe in the Market Arcade has also generated walk-in traffic.
Patricia Shanahan of Westfield visited the center for the first time this week, while her husband, William, was attending a downtown conference. The couple moved to Chautauqua County from Toledo, Ohio, two years ago, but Mrs. Shanahan said she hadn't been downtown since she was a child and would go on afternoon excursions with her late grandfather, a Kenmore native.
"I would say it has been at least 50 years, so my husband and I decided to make a day of it. We'll have dinner at Pettibone's, then we're going to a Bisons game."
Two residents from the Czech Republic also stopped in at the Visitor Center, looking for information about local attractions. Daniel Jirak and Jan Stejskal have been touring the United States since June and they trekked to Buffalo primarily to tour Marine Midland Arena.
"We wanted to see where Dominik Hasek plays. He's from our country, you know," Jirak said proudly.
Tim and Amy Hazekamp of Marshall, Mich., were also picking up maps and brochures at the downtown center. They had been vacationing in Niagara Falls and said they wanted to spend an afternoon in Buffalo.
"We knew it wouldn't be a glamorous town, but at least you have many nice older buildings," said Mrs. Hazekamp. "The architecture here is impressive."
The Hazekamps were among more than 9,400 people who stopped by the Visitor Center since June 1.
Richard Geiger, president of the Greater Buffalo Convention & Visitors Bureau, the entity that operates the center, conceded that part of the increase in business could be the result of improved traffic flow into downtown. Last summer, road projects caused detours along the Niagara Section of the Thruway. But he thinks an increase in downtown activities and intensified marketing by the CVB have been more important contributors. A special emphasis has been placed on trying to get local people to stop in on their lunch hours or when they're patronizing downtown restaurants or theaters.
Bureau officials are optimistic that a new automated ticketing machine that was installed this week outside the Visitor Center will produce even more foot traffic in the Market Arcade lobby. The ETM Entertainment Network is linked to a computerized network that enables people to purchase tickets to many sporting and theater events across the nation.
David Lacki, the CVB's director of tourism, said people can currently purchase tickets to the Buffalo Philharmonic, Studio Arena Theatre and the Irish Classical Theatre Co.
The ETM machine was previously located at M&T Bank in Fountain Plaza, but Lacki said officials thought it would get more use in the Market Arcade.
"We'll be able to sell tickets to people who don't want to hunt for ticket outlets. And they'll be able to buy tickets to events in other cities. All they have to do is insert their credit cards. The tickets are printed right on the spot," Lacki said.
The Visitor Center offers guides and maps that showcase regional attractions. It also has exhibits and a multimedia presentation that focuses on Buffalo history.
"It's a great place to spend a few minutes exploring," said Mrs. Shanahan. "The trick is to get people to come inside the Market Arcade."