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It's tip-off time in Buffalo. Tourism and transport leaders say they're ready.

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Thursday is Day One of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in Buffalo. Both transportation and tourism leaders say the previous two days' worth of snow has not affected their plans to make fans feel welcome in downtown Buffalo.

While travel plans including flight schedules were thrown into disarray during the snowfall, teams participating in the Buffalo portion of the tournament bracket were already in town ahead of the weather. NFTA spokesman Doug Hartmayer noted that teams, with the exception of a couple that traveled by bus, used charter flights to arrive at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which had a clean and available runway throughout the winter storm.

The NFTA is anticipating busier-than-usual patronage of its light rail system during the tournament.

"The Metro Rail will be running on schedule and we have, anticipating the crowds, will be looking to put some extra frequency in service on the line."

Hartmayer encourages fans to take advantage of the free park-and-ride lots available at the north end of the Metro Rail line, the University and LaSalle lots. Knowing that there will be competition for spaces among basketball fans and people riding the rail to work, Hartmayer recommended that people who usually park at the University lot consider the LaSalle lot, located off Main Street between LaSalle and Hertel.

"At LaSalle there's around 730 spaces," Hartmayer said. The LaSalle capacity is more than double the amount of available spaces at the University lot.

Tourism leaders, meanwhile, were preparing to welcome fans with giveaways and a team of volunteers who will monitor local restaurants and establishments and, using the Twitter hashtag #HoopsBuf, provide continuous updates on where seating is available.

"Having these folks out and about at different restaurants is going to be critical for us," said Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara. "We have about two dozen people who are part of our Tweet Team who are going to be spread out through the downtown area, talking about open seating at various restaurants."

Food trucks and taxis will also be on standby near KeyBank Center. 

Kaler admits there is just one thing downtown that he wishes would be available to visitors, public skating at Canalside. Unfortunately for skating enthusiasts, the rink has already been closed for the season.

"It would have been a great opportunity for that period of time in between (games) and on Friday when everybody has the open day as well to be able to go to Canalside and experience the ice skating and the ice bikes," Kaler said.

But Friday will also be St. Patrick's Day. Fans will be able to celebrate the holiday in the city that was recently ranked by WalletHub.com as the best place in the U.S. for St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

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.
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