Making An Impact

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a 14-story series on issues that will be facing local communities in 2014.

With several notable venues, Southwestern New York has its fair share of tourist attractions.

Some area organizations such as the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy and Chautauqua Institution have massive economic impacts during short periods, while others like the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena and the Seneca Allegany Casino are sustained year-round. Not only do these area organizations benefit financially from tourism, many also depend on it to continue improving programming and renovating.

According to Journey Gunderson, executive director for the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, in 2011 Paradigm Economics completed an economic impact study on the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and reported that the event had a direct economic impact on Chautauqua County of $3.7 million over five days. Then in 2013, Gunderson found that 51 percent of ticket buyer zip codes were from outside of New York state.

“I think the most exciting thing is that we have increased attendance both from tourists and locals,” Gunderson said. “The magnitude of our program as a whole during the comedy festival weekend has been increased. We’ve gotten back to presenting a mix of Lucy nostalgia programming and contemporary comedy programming. So, whether you’re making a pilgrimage here out of your love for Lucy, or you’re someone in the region who is excited to see Bill Engvall in the Reg Lenna community theater – there’s something for everybody.”

Gunderson also found in 2013 that of the 20,000 paid admissions to the year-round Lucy Desi Museum, 95 percent were from outside Chautauqua County.

“The Lucy Desi Museum definitely depends on tourism,” Gunderson said. “We meet people from across the world on a daily basis, and we’re honored to share the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with older and younger generations alike.”

But, Gunderson also recognizes that the local community is often the center’s biggest asset, and that providing new and exciting things throughout the year is important too.

“When a family member comes home for the holidays and asks, ‘What’s something fun to do in Jamestown this weekend?’ – we want to be the answer,” Gunderson said. “We offer half off admission to all Chautauqua County residents year-round, and will be offering free admission for anyone during Doors Open Jamestown in January.”

Partnerships between area organizations, such as when the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena partnered with the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy to host the Lucy Town Race Weekend, also result in an influx of tourism. According to Gunderson, during the first year of the event, 710 runners from 27 states and Canada registered for a race that fell outside of the summer tourism season.

“I think we all rely on tourism here in Jamestown and Chautauqua County,” said Kurt Silcott, chief executive officer for the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena. “A lot of what we do is event driven, and I don’t know that you call people who come for an event and leave ‘tourists,’ but certainly we do count on people outside the area to support the program we do here. People from outside the area who come to our hockey tournaments end up shopping here, go to hotels and eat at the restaurants.”

Lee Harkness, general manager for the Jamestown Gateway Train Station, another downtown attraction, has seen the benefits of both tourism and drawing regional visitors at its 2013 events.

“Tourism is very important for the Gateway Train Station, and we’ve had visitors from many areas,” Harkness said. “As we develop the station, I would expect that tourism would increase, which itself helps downtown and everybody in Jamestown.”

Visitors of the county head to places other than Jamestown as well. According to Vanessa Weinert, marketing manager for Chautauqua Institution, cultural institutions depend on tourism, but Chautauqua also draws from a regional audience. In 2013, the institution saw approximately 100,000 visitors, and direct annual spending by those visitors is upwards of $60-75 million.

“If you look at our popular entertainment series on Friday nights our biggest markets for that are Erie, Jamestown, Dunkirk, Fredonia and Buffalo – we’re talking pretty close to home,” Weinert said. “Even when you look at our biggest markets overall, we’re still drawing from places such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo – still incredibly regional. I mean we do have pockets of people that come from every state, and outside of the United States. However, the majority of our patrons do have a connection with Chautauqua County or Lake Erie.”

Jim Wise, senior vice president of marketing for Seneca Gaming Corporation, found that while the casino doesn’t depend on tourism, it does value the revenue that tourism can provide. He estimates that approximately three million people visit the Southern Tier annually to enjoy a trip to the Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel. And, since it opened its new tower to double its occupancy, it has seen a 23 percent increase in transient revenue.

“Our goal is to provide the best gaming experience in the region, and to partner with the region’s other tourism and outdoor destinations to create a total package that will attract visitors,” Wise said. “Today’s ‘tourist’ could be tomorrow’s more frequent guest.”

LOOKING FORWARD

With 2013 behind, area organizations have begun looking forward to the new year, and with how well the former went – topping it will be no easy task.

In addition to improvements to its year-round museum attractions, Gunderson is looking forward to making 2014’s major events unforgettable. The next Lucille Ball Comedy Festival is set for Aug. 6-10, and the Lucy Town Half Marathon and 5K is set for Oct. 11-12.

“We’re anticipating that 2014 will be our biggest year ever,” Gunderson said. “We strive to make our museum and events the best they can be, and we’ll be starting out the new year by unveiling some newly acquired artifacts from ‘I Love Lucy.’ We will also be making renovations to the floors and walls of Desilu Studios to make the experience of touring our attraction even more memorable.”

Yet, the organization’s plans are more far-reaching than just next year, and Gunderson believes the economic impact of the center has the potential to increase dramatically.

“In addition to our current operations, if our long-term plan for establishing a national comedy center in Jamestown comes to fruition – the economic impact and visitation will be five-fold,” Gunderson said.

Over at the Jamestown Savings Bank Arena, Silcott and his staff are working diligently to ensure people are drawn to Jamestown, and one way of doing so is by providing exciting entertainment that both visitors and residents will enjoy.

“We’re always looking forward to a good year, and we’ve made a few improvements to our entertainment lineup as a result,” Silcott said. “We’ve have Kellie Pickler coming at the end of January, which we’ve already had a pretty good response to that show. And, we have a lot more planned.”

With great responses to Doors Open Jamestown and National Train Day in 2013, Harkness sees another good year for the Gateway Train Station ahead, he said.

“The events that we did last year we’d like to make signature events for Jamestown,” Harkness said. “For National Train Day we’d like to work together with all of the destinations in Jamestown to use the Train Station as a tool to get people here. Then in July we’ll also host a Buffalo Bill Cody family reunion.”

Wise and the staff at Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel are also looking forward to a great year, he said. One of its biggest tourism efforts, which was held for the first time in 2013, drew more than 15,000 attendees over the course of a weekend, and Wise anticipates this year’s event to be even bigger and better.

“2014 is the 10th anniversary for Seneca Allegany Casino and Hotel, and we have a great year of events, promotions and entertainment to draw people to this region as a destination,” Wise said.

Although it’s tough to point out specific events or improvements at Chautauqua Institution to look forward to in 2014, Weinert believes that with 20-30 programs a day throughout the nine-week season, it would be difficult not to find something to enjoy.

“We have so many different types of visitors come here in so many different types of ways,” Weinert said. “We have the single ticket holder who comes here for a concert. We have people who come for a night, weeks, months, the entire season or even live here year-round. I think 2014 is going to be a really great season. We’re teaming up with National Geographic during week two, and in July we’re collaborating with Colonial Williamsburg. We also have a new series that people really look forward to which is called the ‘Inner Arts Collaboration,’ which will focus on the American West and will be held in July.”