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The Buffalo Convention Center is hosting one of the largest events in its 21-year history this weekend as 7,000 independent distributors of therapeutic body magnets pump more than $5 million into the region.

Team Diamond Inc., an education and marketing association for distributors of Nikken products, is holding its quarterly conference here.

Many local hotels, restaurants and other businesses are cashing in on the influx of visitors from across the United States and Canada. Tourism officials estimate that by the time the event ends Sunday, participants will have paid for up to 8,500 hotel room-nights. Visitors have been staying at more than 15 hotels in Buffalo, neighboring suburbs and Fort Erie.

"Everyone is making big money on this, let me tell you," said Convention Center Director Melvin P. Florczak. "On Friday afternoon, you couldn't find a place to eat downtown. This is definitely the biggest single group we've hosted in my 17 years here."

Nikken Inc. is a multibillion-dollar Japanese company that sells a variety of health products, including magnetic therapy devices, herbal items and other wellness products. The items are sold through a direct-sales network and Nikken, which has about 30 distributors in the Buffalo area, is considered the No. 1 direct seller of health magnets, boasting gross sales of $10 billion. The company recently set up its headquarters in San Francisco.

Nikken has a growing reputation among high-profile professional athletes who have touted the power of magnetic therapies, including Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. The products range from magnetic insoles that are worn in shoes to magnetic sleeping masks and necklaces.

Team Diamond is the not-for-profit training entity that provides education and support to Nikken distributors across North America. The association holds meetings every three months and recent venues have included Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Kansas City. Its next quarterly meeting will be held in New Orleans. The three-day events typically include main programs that are held on elaborate stages, sales seminars and inspirational speeches.

"This is our first Business Invitational in New York State, and we are very pleased by the warm reception
from the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau," said Chief Operating Officer Laurel L. Barton.

Sean McPhee traveled 2,100 miles from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend the conference. This is his first trip to Buffalo.

"It's a nice town, but a lot quieter than I expected. I would have thought that there would be a lot more people on your downtown streets," said McPhee.

Kieron Sweeney is also a Nikken distributor from Vancouver who grew up in Toronto and has visited Western New York many times. He encouraged local officials to push ahead with plans for a $124.5 million convention center.

"You have to build it. You need a world-class convention center to compete with other regions," said Sweeney, who has attended conferences across the continent.

Florczak said accommodating 7,000 people isn't an easy task, especially in a building that is 21 years old.

"The biggest challenge is something you never even think of: The bathrooms. We've had two people on duty at all times just to make sure we don't have any plugged-up johns," said Florczak.

The facility also had to rent more than 2,000 additional chairs and is utilizing more than 1,000 hours of additional security personnel. Florczak estimated that the event will generate between $40,000 and $50,000 in revenue for the center.

Several thousand Team Diamond members have also been attending meal functions at the newly renovated Adam's Mark Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Buffalo and the Statler Golden Ballroom.

The event comes at a time when local convention and tourism officials have had a tough time booking many large gatherings. One of the main culprits involves escalating competition from regions that have expanded their convention centers or built new facilities. Florczak said a shortage of convention-class hotel rooms has also been an impediment to landing many large events.

But CVB President Richard Geiger said the bureau has been successful in developing a "niche" with some multi-level marketing groups, including Amway, a direct-marketing Goliath that has held several events here in recent years. Amway and Nikken are fierce competitors and are currently embroiled in a lawsuit, each contending that the other copied its design for therapeutic body magnets.

Karen Miranda, vice president of convention sales and services at the CVB, said there were indications that fallout from Tropical Storm Floyd may have had some effect on Team Diamond's attendance figures, at least on Thursday night and early Friday. There were initial projections that more than 7,300 participants would be attending.

"But we were encouraged when we saw that most of the 7,000 seats in the main convention hall were filled on Friday," Ms. Miranda said.

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