Stan Rydelek learned during Gov. George E. Pataki's June 20 news conference at Prospect Point that the Niagara Falls Convention Center could become a casino.
So did most everyone else in Western New York. But Rydelek heads the Niagara Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city-funded agency dedicated to persuading groups to hold their conventions in Niagara Falls.
Like many business leaders in Western New York, Rydelek enthusiastically supports Pataki's plan to allow a Seneca Nation of Indians casino to open in Niagara Falls by April. It could dramatically boost the development of the region's tourism industry in coming years, Rydelek said.
But today, Rydelek's group has a thorny problem: figuring out how to satisfy organizations that have signed contracts to use the convention center next year. Twelve conventions, many with years of planning behind them, are set for 2002.
The mission now, Rydelek said, is to find alternate arrangements for all of them.
"We'll satisfy their needs, as best we can, in Niagara Falls," Rydelek said. "We will come up with venues to accommodate them."
If there aren't appropriate alternatives in the city, Rydelek said, "we'll displace them to another area and handle the transportation needs."
Depending on the arrangements sorted out in coming months, he said, the former Falls Street Faire, the Rainbow Centre Factory Outlet Mall or even the Adelphia sports dome might serve as alternate spaces for convention events.
"There are a lot of creative things springing up out there," Rydelek said.
Displaced conventions are one of the issues that need to be dealt with as the casino plan moves forward, said Michael McKeon, a spokesman for Pataki.
"We're going to stay focused on moving forward on a plan that will have a beneficial effect on Niagara Falls for a generation," he said.
The governor's message to those affected by the state's plans for the convention center is "to be patient and bear with us," McKeon said.
"We're trying to make history here, and that is sometimes not a smooth and easy process," he said.
Three groups with planned conventions aired their concerns to the Niagara Falls Conventions and Visitors Bureau at a meeting Tuesday.
John Bauer, of the Lakewood YMCA near Jamestown, asked what would happen to the National YMCA Women's Gymnastics Tournament, which has signed convention and hotel contracts to bring 4,200 people to the city in July 2002.
That's three months after the convention center will open its doors as a casino, if the state's plan goes forward.
In two weeks, Bauer said, he's going to this year's championship, where details of the 2002 event were to be announced.
"What I'm asking for," said Bauer, "is that 2002 go forward."
Youth for Christ has held its annual
events at the convention center for years, said Tommy McClam, ministry director. The group even moved its offices to the city, partly because of the Convention Center's ability to host gatherings. Its annual event, from Dec. 26 through 30, was set to bring up to 6,000 young Christians to Niagara Falls.
Now the building is supposed to become a gambling palace.
"Our dilemma, with the casino on the horizon, is where do we go from this point on?" McClam said.
When the Enlisted Association of the National Guard agreed to hold its national convention in Niagara Falls, "the governor's office on down signed off on it, saying, 'We want your conference in Niagara Falls,' " said organizer Claude Imagna. After the meeting, Imagna expressed confidence that his convention would be "handled in the proper manner."