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Local tourism leaders prep for coming NCAA Tournament games

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Later this month, "March Madness" returns to Buffalo when the city hosts first- and second-round games of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Local tourism leaders are acting to make sure the city and its businesses are ready.

On March 16 and 18, KeyBank Center will host one of the regional brackets. The colleges competing in this region will be selected at a later date.

On Tuesday, Visit Buffalo Niagara and the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission hosted an information session to brief business owners on what to expect when college hoops fans arrive. 

Buffalo last hosted NCAA Men's Tournament games in 2014. Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, noted the many changes that have come to downtown since then and with them, new opportunities for tourist business.

"Canalside and HarborCenter were still under construction at that time," Kaler said. "You think about the restaurants that are right there in that core area. It's a great opportunity to keep everyone kind of in that central location, but people are going to want to be going to Chippewa and, of course, go to the Anchor Bar for the original chicken wing."

Visit Buffalo Niagara personnel and volunteers will be deployed to provide information on the street for visiting fans. There will also be a "Twitter team" that provides real-time updates on restaurants that have available seating and venues that might already be packed. Communication, planners say, will be critical as they help fans fill the time gaps between games.

Tourism leaders will also point out some of the other nearby attractions fans may visit between games. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is holding special hours for the tournament, in advance of their scheduled season opening. 

"Our official opening is March 25 but with this special occasion coming into town for March Madness, we're going to be open March 16, 17 and 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. all three days," said Paul Marzello, director of development for the park.

One of the establishments looking forward to welcoming fans is Ballyhoo, located on South Park Avenue not far from the arena. Morgan Stevens, who owns the bar with her husband, said Buffalo-area residents already know the many things the city has to offer. She's eager to help make a good first impression on those coming from outside the region.

"This is a little more exciting to us, personally, because it's so many out-of-town guests," Stevens said. "There's people that have never seen Buffalo, fans and families and players. It's just one of those things, that we have the opportunity to show them what we're made of. The fabric of Buffalo is something that is shared. As long as we can share it with people from out of town, it makes it even more special."

While Tuesday's informational session focused on the NCAA Tournament, Kaler pointed out the other major sporting events coming to Buffalo later this year. This summer the city is hosting the Gaelic Games, and just after Christmas, the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.