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Local Businesses ? College Basketball

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team came through Albany over the weekend en route to its eighth straight Final Four. Downtown businesses are hopeful major NCAA events will continue coming to town.

College basketball is big business — and good for local business. Times Union Center officials — whose recent bid to host the NCAA men’s tournament in the next few seasons was denied — are hoping the success of the regional women’s tourney final could set the stage for the rights to host future tournaments.

The arena, which is slated for a makeover, hasn’t hosted men’s NCAA tournament games since 2003.   

But Saturday and Monday, about 15,000 fans packed in, largely nearby UConn fans there to cheer the top-seeded Huskies. The women’s regional final is scheduled to return in 2018, and officials are hoping that’s only the start once the new convention center opens.

Michele Vennard is the president of the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau.     "I think the tournament we just hosted, the Sweet 16 for the womens' basketball, is a really great example of that. We know going in, and since we're the day after we still have some information to gather, but we anticipated economically that this tournament would bring to the county and to the region about $1.3  million in direct spending. The important thing for people to remember, who are residents here, is, that of that $1.3  million, a little over $100,000 will go to local tax receipts and that helps us all because it's over a hundred thousand dollars in sales and usage taxes that we wouldn't have had without this kind of activity."

Hamilton Cook is Director of New Media/Communications for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Siena College’s league, which served as host for the women’s regional final.    "We like Albany. Albany is a good area, everything is close. Our championship was in Springfield for the last three years. Springfield was good but having Siena College as the local college, you know we got a lotta fans that come out for the MAAC tournament and the NCAA tournament, so I think the Albany area is a great area just because we had a great turnout at our tournament and we had a great tournament here at the regionals just because of the fan base and the love and passion for basketball in this area."

The 17,500-seat Times Union Center, which opened 25 years ago as "The Knickerbocker Arena," is slated for $15.7 million in upgrades over the next two years, including a new main entrance and other improvements.   "Without even hosting this tournament that we're just coming off of, the NCAA has awarded us a similar tournament in 2018. Now at that point, renovations to the atrium and the Times Union center will be completed.  The Albany Capitol Center will be completed. So that puts a whole new cast on things. And as the convention center authority was designing the Albany Capital Center, there was certainly accommodation made for some use for some sporting event on the second floor.  When you take a look at what's going to be happening along that corridor and walkway, it's 159,000 square feet of space between the Empire State Plaza, Capital Center and Times Union Center that can be used for events such as this.

Again, Cook:    "We'll be back in 2018, actually we already awarded the 2018 regional, so we will be back for that and we also have the MAAC tournament for the next two years as well, so, yeah, the planning will start as soon as possible, actually, for both of those tournaments as well."

There's also word that property in the neighborhood may soon be occupied by a few nationally-known brands, including an un-named family restaurant exploring a site close to the TU Center.   "That opening on Pearl Street of new restaurants and other facilities - boy, it's so important that visitors see something attractive and welcoming whether they're coming out of the east side of this complex or the west side of this complex, so we do have, certainly, our work to do in the next couple of years," said Vennard.

The nearby $66.5 million convention center is scheduled to open January 2017.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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