ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Erie County officials gave a first look at plans to revamp the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, which was originally built in the 1970s.
In September, 7ABC took an in-depth look at the convention center industry, and spoke with some local business leaders about just how big of an impact the facility has on Western New York.
Renderings of the upgraded facility can be found below:
This comes as $1.2 million dollars of other improvements are now complete, while other changes are in the works.
"This is the new Buffalo. Buffalo is back and we should not have a convention center that looks like it was built in 1970," Erie County executive, Mark Poloncarz said. "It may have been the top of architectural design in 1976, but today it just exudes the old Buffalo."
By this time next year, the convention center will be well on the way to sporting a fresh new look.
The facility's facade will be done in two phases.
Poloncarz said, "We're going to do work on the entire facility with regards to power-washing, cleaning, making sure it's pointed properly, so that the rest of the exterior will get a makeover but not a complete new design."
The exterior improvements will begin early next year and are expected to done by December of 2022. but county officials said the convention center – which reopened just this past Sunday for the first time since the pandemic began will remain open.
"We work closely with the U.S. Travel Association, in conjunction with tourism economics. It is truly the gold standard of tourism, research and economics. They have estimated that as we come out of the pandemic in our recovery phase that meetings and conventions will not return to the 2019 levels until 2024."
County officials hope the improvements will bring more visitors, and more dollars to Downtown Buffalo, while also building some Buffalo pride.
Poloncarz said, "We determined that people come here for Buffalo, just as much for anything Niagara Falls. We wanted to be representative of Buffalo. While, yes, we have this wonder of the world not too far away, the conventions we often get are for individuals who are coming here and staying here. They are staying at the hotels, they're going to the restaurants... maybe they make a day-trip to Niagara Falls, or stop off in the evening."
So what is the cost of this project and where is the money coming from? Poloncarz said there are two portions of this project.
"Some of which are in our capitol borrowing, which is the doors and entry way. That portion, we actually borrowed about a million and a half dollars in our capitol. Then we have money set aside, from the Renew Plan, about a little less than $5M. The project is out to bid. We are expecting to get bids back. Once we do, we'll take it to the legislature. I don't know the exact total of what it'll be in the end. It definitely will be less than $10M. There's no doubt about that," he said.
There was discussion about a new convention center but added that this is not the priority at the moment
Poloncarz said, "We realized, to invest, in what would be a very, very expensive project, without any real guarantee of return, would make no sense. I do not want to be in a situation where I straddle this community with hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and not be able to see a return from it."
Another topic that was brought up at this announcement was whether the discussion of the Bills Stadium played a role in this decision.
Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said that was not the driving factor, and that the priority is the convention center and investing in the facility.