BUFFALO (WKBW) — The pandemic has caused chaos for businesses everywhere, especially the convention industry. Look no further than the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center which has been closed now for a year and a half. The facility is finally ready to reopen in early October.
In a regular year the weddings, galas and events held at the convention center such as "The World's Largest Disco", provide a big boost to downtown Buffalo. According to Visit Buffalo Niagara the convention center typically hosts more than 200 events each year which generate more than $40 million in economic impact.
"It's big business," says Patrick Kaler, the President and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. "It's a job creator, an economic generator. Lots of hotel rooms are generated by the convention center."
The pandemic forced the convention center to close in March of 2020. It has been dark ever since.
"Having the convention center off-line for almost two years now is pretty devastating to our overall tourism economy," said Kaler. "We are probably down around $86 million."
That loss of revenue is having a direct impact on hotels and restaurants nearby. "We estimate it to be about 20-25 percent of our pre-pandemic business," says Nick Pitillio, the owner of Osteria 166, which is just down the block from the convention center. "We used to be open pre-pandemic eleven meal periods. We are now open five. One lunch instead of five lunches. The demand just isn't there."
And Pitillo says the lack of events at the convention center is playing a direct role.
"The local stuff. The car shows and the home shows. Huge impacts on our business," said Pitillio.
But work is being done to help. Erie County is investing around $1.5 million to upgrade the flooring, wall finishes and electrical in the main lobby of the convention center. All with an eye of finally reopening the venue on October 10, 2021.
"It's going to be a slow start to the rest of the year. Many conventions for the most part have cancelled or moved into future years", said Kaler.
Tourism Economics, an industry leader in tourism research, estimates that meetings and conventions will not return to 2019 levels until 2024.
Still Kaler remains optimistic. "We have a great story right now. With the work being done on the convention center, with the Hyatt (Regency) coming back online with new management. The dollars that are being put into that property. Even the Statler Hotel. The work that is being done across the street. That is so important for people to see that the work is taking place."
Visit Buffalo Niagara says 2022 will be a good post-pandemic year at the convention center. With an estimated 113 events already scheduled, boasting an economic impact of more that $30 million. The numbers are still lower than normal, but they are music to the ears of many.
"We are in the heart of downtown Buffalo. We need things to get back to normal as soon as possible," said Pitillio.