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A new look and updated name are coming to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center

Rendering of future Buffalo Convention Center facade
Michael Mroziak WBFO News
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A rendering of the future Buffalo Convention Center facade, displayed Tuesday inside the downtown Buffalo facility. Dropping "Niagara" from the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center is part of the strategy to market the space as a modern center for a new Buffalo.

Plans for a new, half-billion dollar convention center in Buffalo are on hold. Instead, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz unveiled a plan Tuesday to update the look of downtown Buffalo’s existing facility.

Changes inside include a brighter lobby, with new flooring and lighting. The highlight of the project is set to begin in early 2022, when work is expected to begin on replacing the façade along Franklin Street with a more modern, illuminated front which will be able to change colors to match themes and special occasions as needed. The entryway will also undergo changes.

“Unfortunately, through the years, we've heard from our friends in the convention and visitors business that one of the worst attributes of our convention center, and trying to attract business to the area, was the 1970s-era brutalist façade,” said Poloncarz.” It may have been the top of the architectural design in 1975 and ‘76. But today, it just exudes the old Buffalo. This is the new Buffalo. Buffalo is back. And we should not have a convention center that looks like it was built in 1970.”

The county executive was eyeing development of a new convention center in 2019, one that was estimated to cost up to half a billion dollars. But on Tuesday, he explained that uncertainties in convention business brought on by the pandemic make it senseless to invest such money at this time.

The changes announced Tuesday are designed to give the convention center an updated look and keep it competitive for at least another ten years.

Patrick Kaler, president and chief executive officer of Visit Buffalo Niagara, says before the pandemic the convention center generated an average annual economic impact of $43 million. But the US Travel Association suggests it will take more time for Buffalo to get back to those levels.

“They have estimated that as we come out of the pandemic in our recovery phase, meetings and conventions will not return to 2019 levels until 2024,” Kaler said. “So it's been a perfect opportunity for the county to make these really necessary improvements to our overall physical plant here at the convention center.”

Poloncarz added that he has approached officials at the Albright Knox Art Gallery about possible work creating murals that would cover and add beauty to the convention center’s Pearl Street side.

One other significant change will be new branding. When the new façade is finished, projected by late 2022, the building will be known as the Buffalo Convention Center.

Why drop “Niagara” from the name?

“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're 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. But what it puts the draw now is Buffalo,” Poloncarz replied. “Maybe 30 years ago when they changed the name, or 20 years ago, it was Niagara Falls because we were heading in the wrong trajectory as a community, but we're not anymore. We wanted to stress that.”