First proposed in the mid-’80s, the call for a convention facility in Albany, N.Y., began in earnest around 1994. The project’s chief promoters included Michele Vennard, then two years in as president and CEO of the Albany County CVB. Yet, even with a 1998 feasibility study revealing millions in lost revenue for the destination without such a facility, shovels would not hit the ground until 2015.
Last March, the long wait, vexed with challenges and setbacks, finally ended with the debut of the 82,000-square-foot Albany Capital Center (ACC). For Vennard, the realization of her “team effort” vision culminated her accomplished four-decade career championing Empire State meetings and tourism, as she now moves on and looks forward to “not necessarily” retiring (see the related Zoom In Q&A article).
The $78.5 million ACC has opened its account with a flourish. The venue attracted some 139 bookings in its inaugural year, with its first contracted event, the three-day convention and expo of the New York State Council for Social Studies, doubling expectations with 600-plus delegates. Client feedback since has been resoundingly positive, such as this testimonial from Olivia Rickenbacher, marketing and events manager for the New York State Government Finance Officers’ Association.
“For anyone looking for top-tier meeting space and service, the ACC is an absolute go-to,” wrote Rickenbacher following the association’s 100-person training seminar at the facility last October. “I have received nothing but the highest level of customer service and commitment to making my event the best experience possible for my attendees. Somehow they make the entire experience from the initial sale of the space, down to the final detail of your plans, seem like you are their top priority.”
For Albany, the ACC and other investments have infused New York’s historic capital city with new energy and appeal. With the CVB rebranding to “Discover Albany” last fall, the city is asserting its confidence as a destination, and as strong leadership and vision also drive opportunity in Saratoga Springs, the Capital Region continues to affirm its strength as an Empire State group magnet.
Albany Capital Center Allows for Larger Events
Connected via climate-controlled tunnels and pedestrian bridges to the Empire State Convention Center, The Egg Performing Arts Center, Times Union Center arena and 204-room Renaissance Albany Hotel, the ACC anchors the more than 159,000-square-foot Capital Complex, creating Upstate New York’s largest indoor meeting space. As ACC General Manager Doug McClaine explained, the options that this creates are a defining advantage.
“From 10-person meetings up to 4,000-delegate conventions, flexibility is our key selling point,” McClaine said. “It has already changed meeting planner awareness and perception of Albany. Our increased ability to host both more and larger events means we can now engage in sales conversations that were not possible before. Results to date include attracting back business that had previously outgrown Albany, allowing groups to grow and stay in Albany, and higher attendance and participation numbers.”
Year one “could not have been scripted any better,” McClaine said. “We had a great mix of events, tradeshows, meetings and social events, large and small, and short-term bookings were extremely strong. Associations, predominantly from New York state, made up most of our business, with key wins including the three-day Auto Recyclers Northeast Convention & Tradeshow, which relocated from its traditional casino setting.”
As more planners experience the technologically advanced new facility, marketing efforts ahead are targeting new business.
“Our focus is on regional and Northeast events that have been absent in recent years, or have never been to Albany,” McClaine continued. “For national events, typically requiring a bigger footprint, the scale and flexibility of the entire Capital Complex is also redefining the conversation. Significantly for 2017, there was no business decrease in the other venues, as events moving to the ACC were replaced with new bookings elsewhere in the Complex. This is where we see true impact taking place as we move forward with long-term business on a larger scale.”
With some 50,670 attendees and 7,550-plus room nights projected for 2018 so far, the ACC is already booking one, two and three years out. Notable contracts include the 5,000-plus delegate Empire State Comic Con, starting a three-year run this spring. In 2020, March Madness returns to the Times Union Center for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball first- and second-round games, with the ACC slated to host the always popular fan festival. From other athletic events to consumer shows, there are many other highlights.
Albany’s hotel product also continues to evolve behind enhancements such as the just-completed $15 million transformation of a longtime Capital Region group mainstay, the Albany Marriott. Close to Albany International Airport, the 360-room property is Albany’s second-largest hotel, offering nearly 30,000 square feet of versatile space. More than half of that space was included in the current renovation. In addition, there are technology upgrades and refreshed decor in the guest rooms and a more open and collaborative guest environment, as well as updates of all public spaces, including the bar, Great Room, lobby and common areas.
Saratoga 'Springs Ahead' of the Meetings Competition
About 36 miles north of Albany up I-87, historic Saratoga Springs is buoyant and bullish following a productive and profitable 2017.
“It was a banner year for the meeting and event industry in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County,” said Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau. “Our sales team secured multiyear contracts with statewide association groups, sports tournaments, destination weddings, group tours and corporate groups, leading to 98,268 contracted room nights. We exceeded our goal for the year, with an estimated economic impact of $68.8 million, up 28 percent from the previous year.”
Looking ahead, “our convention and event services team is seeking to innovatively enhance the visitor experience for our group attendees, while our national sales manager is targeting the agricultural industry as a new market,” he said.
Enhanced by year-round celebrations such as ChowderFest, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this month, the city’s enduring appeal is easy to appreciate.
“Saratoga is an ideal drive-to meetings destination that draws state associations, national associations, corporate meetings, sports tournaments, destination weddings and a variety of other groups,” Garofano explained. “Our proximity to major markets, diverse lodging opportunities, a modern city center for larger conventions and conferences, lively cultural attractions, and the shops and restaurants of our award-winning walkable downtown make Saratoga a hub for group and business travel.”
Located in 2,300-acre Saratoga Spa State Park, the 124-room The Gideon Putnam resort is a perennial group favorite. Featuring 22 suites in its room mix, the scenic property offers 12,000-plus square feet of indoor and outdoor space for groups of 500, with the newly renovated Grand Ballroom among 10 unique meeting spaces in the self-contained conference center. Groups can also access the Saratoga Spa Golf Course and legendary Roosevelt Baths & Spa for post-meeting activities.
Opened at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in summer 2016, the 117-room Saratoga Casino Hotel offers 3,000-plus square feet of meeting space, as well as private dining at Morton’s The Steakhouse, a historic lodge with event space for up to 120 indoors, an indoor resort pool with a spa whirlpool and an outdoor terrace.
Last October, the 32-room Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga’s oldest hotel (1877), reopened following a four-year, $24 million facelift, which includes a 1,200-square-foot glass-walled conservatory housing a restaurant and new 2,300-square-foot grand ballroom.
Last summer saw the debut of the new $20 million Homewood Suites by Hilton Saratoga Springs. Located about two miles from downtown, the 113-suite extended-stay property offers space for small meetings.
Albany and Saratoga CVB Contacts
Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau