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AMATEUR SPORTING EVENTS GIVE AREA ECONOMY A BOOST

Amateur sporting events have become a staple in bringing visitors to the region.

This week, the Amherst Pepsi Center is home to the North Atlantic Regional Championships and 400 skaters. The event being hosted by the Amherst Skating Club will pump an estimated $400,000 into the economy. Jamestown hosts an even larger event next month, and Buffalo is expecting 6,000 skaters in January.

Nearly 45 percent of all hotel rooms booked through the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau are for sporting events. This year, the bureau helped book 75 sporting events with a total of 40,000 visitors (excluding locals). Those athletes, parents and spectators will pump $20 million into the economy, said Michael Even, the bureau's director of convention sales. About $4 million of the $20 million came from the NCAA men's basketball subregionals.

The area is popular with sporting events partly because of the 1993 World University Games.

"We have a wonderful track and field stadium and pool," Even said. "Both have garnered national recognition for the role they played in hosting amateur athletic events."

These athletes spend about $125 a day on hotels, transportation, food and entertainment, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions. An event such as the North Atlantic Regional Championships, which has skaters from Erie, Pa., New Jersey and all of New York, will pump about $400,000 into the local economy before it concludes Saturday, Even estimated. Some of that money goes to the businesses inside the Pepsi Center, such as First Athletics and Sports Training, which took over the former Buffalo Athletic Club space that sat vacant for a year.

The gym is offering skaters passes for $7 a day or $25 for the week. So far, the gym has sold 15 to 20 passes.

"It helps us for this week," said manager Frank Gillespie. "It gives us a little nudge."

Maura Famiglietti of Monmouth County in New Jersey expects to spend at least $1,000 this week for her daughter Jaclyn to compete in the event. Most of that money is for ice time, the hotel and meals. She expects to perhaps make one shopping trip or they might go to Niagara Falls instead.

"It's expensive between the hotel and all your meals," she said. "And there's not a lot of time. They stay really focused. Some of the girls just go back to their hotel and study. They do a lot of homework. They have a week of class work to make up."

Fuddruckers Restaurant on Maple Road saw a 15 percent increase in its lunch and dinner business because of the skaters at the Pepsi Center, said manager Kevin Federation. However, the manager at the Red Lobster on Maple reported no change.

In December, the Jamestown Skating Club is hosting the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships. In January, the Buffalo Skating Club will host the Eastern Synchronized Team Skating Sectional Championships, which is expected to bring 6,000 people.

If a proposed ice arena is built in West Seneca, the area could host some of the larger skating events.

Local businessmen have proposed a $40 million five-rink complex and 5,000-seat arena. If approved, it would be 60 percent larger than the Pepsi Center.

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com