The Department of Veterans Affairs has canceled the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games, which were set to bring 1,000 veterans to Buffalo for six days of athletic competition this spring.
The department decided not to hold the event, which had been scheduled for May 30 through June 4, because of budget concerns, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said Wednesday.
But in a statement, the department offered a slightly different explanation.
“In an effort to ensure we meet the high standards of excellence, good governance and efficiency, we evaluate each event, program and initiative for alignment with the department’s core mission and priorities,” the statement said. “After going through a comprehensive assessment, VA has decided to postpone the 2013 National Veterans Golden Age Games in Buffalo, New York.”
Local organizers had been planning the event, called “Warriors on the Waterfront,” for six years, and the VA signed contracts associated with the event only two weeks ago, Higgins said.
“While I certainly understand the need to regularly reassess how we best meet the needs of our veterans, the VA made a commitment to this region; local businesses and organizers have invested time and money to ensure this VA event would be a success; and with just 10 weeks to go, the VA abruptly and unjustifiably is walking away from Western New York and the nearly 1,000 veterans who have been planning and looking forward to this event,” he said. “It’s just not right.”
The VA calls the Golden Age Games the world’s largest sports competition for veterans ages 55 and older. The agency awarded the 27th annual Games to Buffalo in 2011, and competition was set to take place at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, Erie Community College, Audubon Golf Course and other local venues.
The agency told Higgins that the decision to cancel the event was not related to sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1. The VA is exempt from sequestration, but agency officials told Higgins that the general fiscal climate was the reason the event had to be put off.
However, similar veterans events are set to go on as scheduled in North Carolina, Florida, Colorado and California, leaving Higgins wondering why Buffalo was singled out.
“Thousands of hours have been spent by stakeholders in the Western New York convention and hospitality industry, VA personnel, military personnel, and local volunteers to prepare for this event,” Higgins wrote in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
“More than 2,500 veterans and families, supporters, sponsors and others were expected to come to Western New York, and this postponement will result in a loss of in excess of $ 2.2 million to our community.”
The cancellation will pose a hardship for the four downtown hotels that booked guests for the event, as well as for the venues where competitions were set to take place, said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara.
“We can’t rebook the convention center on that short a notice,” she said. “This was a very significant event for us.”