LAKE PLACID - The new Conference Center at Lake Placid is starting to pay dividends for the local economy as more and larger groups book the facility for meetings and conventions.
The Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau announced this week that the Conference Center's sales team has booked more than 19,000 room nights - a room booked for a night, regardless of how many people are staying in that room - through 2017. The LPCVB recently secured a contract with the New York State School Boards Association for an Oct. 11-14 conference in 2017, which will attract about 1,100 attendees.
LPCVB President and CEO Jim McKenna said in a press release that the NYSSBA conference is expected to generate about $1 million in direct spending in the region.
Fred Richards, left, accepts a gift from Maryjane Lawrence, director of sales and marketing at the Conference Center at Lake Placid. Richards was rewarded for connecting the Conference Center’s sales team to the New York State Cardiac and Pulmonary Care Conference, which will be at the Conference Center this April.
"A group of this size, held at this time of year, is even more valuable, as it increases business during a typically slower time for leisure travel visitors," he said.
McKenna told the Enterprise bringing NYSSBA to Lake Placid is a big accomplishment since the LPCVB has been trying to bring it to town for more than 10 years. He noted that in the past, before the Conference Center was built, NYSSBA declined to come to Lake Placid because it didn't have the space to meet the group's needs.
The Conference Center opened in May 2011. It carried a hefty price tag: The state paid close to $20 million for its construction. But the LPCVB says the center was completed "with no debt load to the community."
The facility is located on Main Street in Lake Placid, attached to the Olympic Center. It has more than 90,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space and a full-service kitchen.
Aside from the numerous groups that have held conventions there - including the Civil Service Employees Association and the New York State Snowmobile Association - the Conference Center has also hosted Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and, most recently, members of the New York State Police.
McKenna said attracting clients hasn't been easy, mainly because Lake Placid isn't a major air destination.
"When you have group activity, you need a lot of aircraft coming in," he said. "We're not national. We're more of a New York state meeting site. There's certainly instances where we do do national events. But overall, our marketplace is predominantly New York state associations."
Urban areas like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City generally dominate the convention business, but McKenna said Lake Placid has worked its way into the loop.
"Most bids that we have - especially the larger groups - it's a bid situation where there are other destinations also bidding on it," he said. "We've got to sharpen our pens all the time, so to speak."
Lake Placid does have some advantages over other convention destinations, McKenna said. For one, it has a brand-new facility. It also has a small-town atmosphere.
"It's the safety factor; it's the ability to walk from a lodging facility to the Conference Center to Main Street, having that access," McKenna said. "(It's) having the walkability or pedestrian atmosphere of the village - all of that plays to us very well."
McKenna said urban areas can't compete with those factors. The closest competitor Lake Placid has, he said, is Saratoga Springs.
One of the big benefits of increased convention business is more "shoulder season" activity. McKenna said large-scale conventions in April and October help to fill hotel rooms during otherwise slow times of the year.
"When there's more activity in town, there's more ability for businesses to take advantage of it," he said. "So if we have a group coming in the middle of the week in November, of 1,000 people, a lot of different businesses are feeling those effects. ... It's a form of travel that we can bring here. Leisure travel doesn't happen in those times, so it's the group activity that keeps things flowing."
Maryjane Lawrence is LPCVB's director of sales and marketing. She said her team has been courting previous clients to continue booking the Conference Center, and working to attract new ones.
"Once a group tours our flexible meeting space in person, they're very impressed," Lawrence said in a press release. "We're working to gain that top-of-mind presence, armed with a fantastic meeting space in a fantastic meeting location."
Late last year, LPCVB launched a new initiative called "Community Connection." Through the program, community members can connect the sales team with groups or clubs they're associated with.
"We're pleased that some of the recently booked room nights were obtained with the help of community members," Lawrence said in the release. "In fact, we've awarded the first Community Connection gift certificate to Fred Richards."
Richards connected the sales team with the New York State Cardiac and Pulmonary Care Conference, which will be at the Conference Center this April.