on February 2, 2014 - 12:01 AM
Western New Yorkers know about the region’s attributes.
Friendly neighbors. Easy commutes. Four seasons. Good eats. Major professional sports. The arts. Historic preservation.
Giving the rest of the country a peek inside a place that often serves as their punch line is the task that continues now at the desk of Patrick J. Kaler in the Market Arcade in downtown Buffalo.
The new president and CEO at Visit Buffalo Niagara, Kaler had an inauspicious start in the Queen City earlier this month: his move from Virginia home took place in the teeth of the Blizzard of ’14.
It was trial by snow. And one that quickly made the 47-year-old Kaler feel like a native.
“There’s a ‘spirit of Buffalo.’ People are very proud of being Buffalonians,” Kaler said, after two weeks on the job. “There is major pride here.”
Promoting a place that, thanks to national media reports, is all-too-often known around the country for winter storms and bad football can be challenging work.
“There are a lot of clichés and stereotypes,” said Edward J. Healy, Visit Buffalo Niagara’s vice president of marketing. “It’s our job to dispel those things.”
Kaler feels there is a well of support to break those stereotypes in the civic pride of those who call the Buffalo Niagara region home, as well as from the “ex-pats” who have left their hearts here and from visitors who are often amazed by their Queen City experience.
“They’re telling the story,” Kaler said.
Tapping into that good word of mouth will be essential for Visit Buffalo Niagara’s overall mission “to bring people in from outside,” Kaler said, “while still engaging the locals.”
Kaler’s hiring followed a national search to fill the vacancy created when Dottie Gallagher-Cohen departed in June to become president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership. Until a headhunter helped lure him here from Loudoun County, Va., one of the nation’s richest counties, Kaler said his previous exposure to Buffalo was limited mostly to the positive words espoused by the late Tim Russert.
But, it didn’t take him long to fall for the area.
“I get it,” was the feeling Kaler said he had on his first tour of the city. He was impressed with the cranes that now dot the landscape and described the community’s collaboration, partnership and pride as “vibrant.”
“I really wanted this job. I understand the appeal to this,” said Kaler, explaining his excitement for a future that’s poised to blossom in the coming couple of years. “2015 and 2016 are going to be very, very exciting years for this community.”
A few of those projects poised for ribbon cuttings in the coming two or three years include:
• The “Explore & More Children’s Museum” at Canalside.
• The resurrected historic Richardson Olmsted Complex.
• Buffalo HarborCenter in the Webster Block.
• The new 12-story John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
All of it goes “beyond tourism,” Kaler said.
Strong economic development spurs successful tourism. And successful tourism leads to even more economic development as outsiders visit the area and realize the unique possibilities Buffalo Niagara present from a geographical, economic and recreational perspective, Kaler and Healy both said.
Combine the area’s proximity to high visibility places like Niagara Falls and Toronto with the availability of shopping and entertainment, sought-after cultural, architectural and heritage sites like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Darwin Martin House and Graycliff Estate as well as the redeveloping Buffalo waterfront – not to mention the burgeoning sports tourism business – and Buffalo Niagara’s renaissance is becoming real, Kaler said.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will bring March Madness to downtown Buffalo for the sixth time this spring. With it will come thousands of college basketball fans and an estimated $5 million shot into the local economy, according to Visit Buffalo Niagara officials.
Earlier this month, Buffalo learned it would again play host to the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects game. The game, which was also played here in 2012, will be held at First Niagara Center in September and in 2015.
Add successes at hosting the world-renowned IIHF World Junior Championship in 2011, the 2003 Frozen Four college hockey championship as well as myriad amateur tournaments, and outsiders are constantly being exposed to Buffalo’s athletic side.
Kaler went so far as to note Buffalo Niagara is listed as the 20th most visited site in the United States by international travelers.
It’s something that, given all that’s happening nowadays, will only get better.
“The world,” predicted Kaler, “is going to be looking at Buffalo and the wonderful resources we have.”