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29% REDUCTION IN HOTEL USE TIED TO AGING CONVENTION CENTER

The projected hotel business generated by conventions booked this year is down 29 percent from last year, a drop local convention officials attribute to the dying Buffalo Convention Center.

Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau leaders said the building has become so antiquated that it's a real tough sell.

"The convention center is antiquated and too small. We're doing the best we can without it. But, as you can see, we're losing market share," said Michael Even, director of convention sales for the Buffalo Niagara CVB.

The organization has booked 113 future events during the first six months of 2001, which is a slight sales increase from the same period last year.

But most of those events are small and do not drive much hotel business. The 113 events are projected to generate 50,615 hotel room nights, a 29 percent drop from 70,954 room nights generated by the CVB through June 2000.

"We've booked more groups, but they're smaller in nature, so we have to work harder to reach our overall goals," Even said.

The bottom line is the drop in future event delegates will mean less money spent in the community. CVB figures project a total economic impact of $25 million from events booked through June of this year, down from $30 million during the same period last year.

Part of the decline in business booked also stems from the slowing national economy that slowed the overall travel and meeting markets, CVB officials said.

Most of the meetings and events booked by the local bureau now utilize alternate venues, such as the Adam's Mark Hotel, which opened 70,000-square-feet of renovated meeting space last year.

Phillip Alterio, sales director at the Adam's Mark, said the hotel can now handle groups of up to 2,000 people.

"This year alone, through the first six months, our group business is up 10 to 15 percent," he said.

Only 10 of the 113 events sold during the first half of 2001 are planned for the 111,000-square-foot convention center.

The CVB has focused on markets where business can be attracted by the quality of other local facilities, such as athletic events. One of the biggest events booked this month was the USA Hockey boys pee wee championships, which will be held at the Amherst Pepsi Center next April. The tournament is expected to generate 4,200 room nights.

The bureau has also done well selling to religious groups, multilevel marketing organizations and military unit reunions, said CVB President Richard Geiger.

"We're shifting what we're doing a little, we're going after more special events," Geiger said.

Geiger has been a vocal advocate in recent years for the need for a new local convention center. The process of renovating or replacing the convention center has been stalled while consultants hired by Erie County study various options.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra said the results of the environmental impact study are expected this fall and then the county will have the information needed to chose the location, size and quality of a new convention center.

"I don't have a personal feeling at this point. What I'm not going to do is prejudice the results of that whole process," the county executive said.

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