Albany businesses gearing up for boost from MAAC tournament

Basketball fans are checking into hotel rooms, patronizing restaurants and other local businesses in
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Basketball fans are checking into hotel rooms, patronizing restaurants and other local businesses in Albany as the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament — an event that generates an estimated $1 million-plus in spending in the city — begins today.

In terms of economic impact, the MAAC tournament is the king of sports tournaments for the Albany area, with more attendees and hotel room nights sold than the ECAC Men’s Hockey Championships, the New York State High School Athletic Association Wrestling Championships and the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Girls Basketball tournament at Hudson Valley Community College, according to the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The MAAC basketball championships result in around 1,300 room nights being sold at local hotels as more than 45,000 people show up to watch the event, which runs through Monday.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Michele Vennard said the fans bring excitement that translates into additional business for eateries, pubs, bars and other businesses surrounding the Times Union Center.

“It’s a busy time in good way,” Vennard said. “Many of the schools have very active alumni bases so they coordinate different parties. There’s a different vibe when there’s a lot of people milling around downtown. It encourages people to participate for the fun of it.”

There are a total of four colleges staying at the Crowne Plaza in Albany from both men’s and women’s teams, general manager Todd Reichelt told The Gazette. Many spectators and tournament participants began arriving Wednesday.

Compared with any other weekend, the 384-room hotel will see up to a 40 percent increase in reservations, with both Friday and Saturday expected to be sold out, Reichelt said. Other hotels like the Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, which are hosting teams in the tournament, are expected to sell out this weekend as well, he said.

“It’s a business generator for all of them,” Reichelt said. “It’s a great event. What’s nice is Siena is in it, so we get to see our home team as well.”

La Serre Restaurant, which serves both lunch and dinner one block away from the Times Union Center at 14 Green St., is expected to get a 30 percent boost in business, according to proprietor Anne Trimble. For sports bars, double that figure, she said.

“People eat, whether it’s a bistro menu or a hamburger at the bar, they’re in,” said Trimble, who is expecting Niagara to dine at her eatery Friday.

Since there’s no snow in the forecast, Trimble expects more a turnout from patrons and vendors, especially if the weather gets up to 50 degrees. “Sunshine means a big deal in this town,” she said.

For 677 Prime on Broadway in Albany, how much of a boost they will experience depends on the timing of the games, general manager Mary Birbilis said.

When there are 4 p.m. games, the restaurants sees more reservations for dinner since the game is over by traditional meal time, she said.

“The bar will do business before the games and after the games,” Birbilis said. “It really increases our bar business.”

A new activity for the MAAC tournament this year will be an academic fair that will showcase participating colleges Saturday morning, as well as an event for guidance counselors Friday night. Vennard called both events recruitment tools aimed at getting more participation from youth. Fan festivals on Pearl Street will be held from noon to 9 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

But the boost from the MAAC tournament will not be seen in Albany for at least another five years. The city lost its bid to host, so next year, the tournament will be in Bridgeport, Conn., and from 2012 to 2015, the tournament will be in Springfield, Mass.

Vennard said Albany will have to wait about three years before it can be in the running to host the tournament again.

“It leaves a hole in March we’re working hard with the Times Union Center to try and find other businesses that will fill that,” Vennard said.

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