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Comptroller rejects proposed convention center study as "waste of money"

File photo/Visit Buffalo Niagara

The Erie County Comptroller is blasting a proposal to hire a consultant that would analyze and determine feasibility of an expanded or new convention center. But his rejection of the idea is generating its own criticism.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw is urging legislators to reject a proposal to spend up to $150,000 to hire a consultant that would determine feasibility of either an expanded or entirely new facility.

Mychajliw said there have already been numerous studies conducted with no further action. 

"We've heard study after study pertaining to a convention center and we've heard over the years where it should go. Maybe we'll put it next to the library, maybe next to HarborCenter, maybe keep it downtown, maybe go to the old Central Terminal," the comptroller said. "We shouldn't be spending a dime on anything pertaining to the convention center, whether it's building brand new or even repairing it, when we haven't allocated the resources to do so."

In response, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz suggested Mychajliw had not necessarily read the proposal closely enough to understand its purpose: getting the expert opinion on what's best for the county, for the size of the market. 

"It's not just to determine whether we need a new convention center but what, based on a community of our size, the convention center size should be," Poloncarz said.

The county executive recently returned from a gathering in Columbus, Ohio, hosted inside that city's convention center. Poloncarz noted it's a vastly bigger facility, one that could hold several Buffalo Niagara Convention Centers within. But he also noted the larger market size and said Buffalo needs to look at how it may compete not against big cities but, rather, against like-sized cities including Milwaukee or Hartford.

"We can't build a convention center like the Javitz Center in New York City because we don't have enough hotel rooms to even fit a convention that would go there," Poloncarz said. "So you need to know the specifics, based on the hotel rooms we have, based on the possible conventions we may be receiving. What size should the convention center be? How many ballrooms should there be? How many bathrooms? How many urinals? How many toilets?"

Mychajliw, who was critical of Poloncarz for pursuing a legislator-rejected $75,000 study of plastic shopping bags and their environmental impact, told WBFO he recalled a time when former Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski sought a new $200 million convention center, but had the money available to do so. He said another consultant study on the existing facility is not needed.

"It's a dump. It has to go," Mychajliw said. "We're losing money on it, pertaining to the fact we're not getting the conventions we could if it were better. It's old. It's dilapidated. And there, I just saved the county $150,000."

UPDATE: It was originally reported that a vote was not anticipated until after the Legislature's August recess. We have since learned that the item, which was discussed by the Legislature's Economic Development Committee, is expected to be considered at Thursday's full meeting, the last session before the recess.

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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