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Rochester’s waterfronts resurge

Rochester, N.Y., certainly has made progress in the past 10 years, but the upstate city on Lake Ontario is equally proud of the ways it has remained the same.

Rochester’s downtown convention district and its successful format of a 100,0000-square-foot convention space linked to almost 1,200 guest rooms has remained constant, even while hotels have been reflagged and the Rochester Riverside Convention Center has been renovated and upgraded.
Also, two smaller hotels, a Staybridge Suites and the Inn on Broadway, have opened downtown within walking distance of the convention center.

Convention center staff sticks around

Staff at the convention center tout their longevity; among them is the man at the helm, executive director Joseph A. Floreano, who opened the center 27 years ago. He presides over a modest-size facility with an outsized reputation for service, food and atmosphere.

Many think of cold when they think of Rochester, so Floreano “wants people to have a warm feeling when they are here,” said Tracy R. Armstrong, director of communitywide convention marketing  for Visit Rochester.

Meeting planners can draw from a deep well of musical talent at the Eastman School of Music.

Floreano runs the center’s food service like a restaurant, with two chefs and a pastry chef who listen to meeting planners’ special requests. He has decorated the center with local art and plenty of plants, and he hides industrial features like cold metal doors with curtains when he can.
If the nearby parking garage managed by the center is full, Floreano posts center staff at its entrance to direct convention goers to other parking areas.

Waterfronts awash with change

As comforting as Floreano’s continuing presence is, Rochester has changed, most visibly along the multiple waterfronts provided by the lake, the Genesee River and the historic Erie Canal.

“The biggest change in terms of community fabric is the refocus on Rochester’s waterways,” said Greg Marshall, vice president and director of marketing.

Once viewed as something that should be filled in, the canal “is now bordered by a string of beautiful villages with lodging, shops and restaurants, much of which was not in place 10 years ago,” said Marshall.

The waterfronts and waterways add options for groups: dinner cruises on the Erie Canal and receptions at Pier 45 at the Port, where the lake meets the river. Floreano also runs Pier 45.
Rochester is an artsy town, home to nine musical organizations, among them the Eastman School of Music. Many a planner has hired a trio from the school to play at cocktail parties.

“The school of music blows people away as far as the musical talent of its students,” said Armstrong.

Artisan Works, an old artillery warehouse that sprawls over a block, has a cool dozen meeting and event spaces from which to choose, among them a rooftop sculpture garden for 150 and the Firehouse, a bright red room for 80 decked out with firefighting gear, including a fire truck. In the main showroom, walls are covered with colorful art, and features include a balcony, a dance floor, a bandstand and a private bar.

Like many towns its size, Rochester has built a minor league baseball stadium near downtown, and its Frontier Field has proved popular with conventioneers in the summer months.

Rochester’s compact downtown convention district has stayed much the same as the city has embarked on projects that take advantage of its multiple waterfronts.

Rochester’s attractions have stepped up their marketing to meeting groups. Most notable is the Strong National Museum of Play, which doubled its physical space five years ago. The museum also expanded its programming to make it clear that the benefits of play extend beyond children by offering classes on how societies and organizations can grow through play.

“It is a venue, but also a resource from a professional development standpoint,” said Marshall.

The toy museum is also one of the attributes that continues to make Rochester a city that tends to attract family-oriented events and conferences.

Earlier this spring, the Rochester CVB reported that its meeting and convention attendance was down by only 2 percent, an indication that the CVB’s focus on diversifying its meeting markets is paying off.

Taking aim at target markets

In recent years, the CVB has focused on markets that make sense for the city: engineering and optical concerns interested in coming to the home of Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb, such as groups involved in optics and imaging; groups that focus on children and recreation that might be drawn by the Strong museum; and, of course, musical organizations attracted by the city’s music schools and organizations.

An emerging market is gay and lesbian groups, said Armstrong. “The gay population here is going strong and is organized,” she said.
The number of hotel rooms has increased by 16 percent in the past decade, mostly because of the new limited-service hotels. There are 70 lodging properties with 7,000 rooms, including 11 operated by the largest Marriott franchisee. Even older properties built in the 1960s have been remade and remodeled.
“There is not a property in Rochester that I would say, ‘No, you don’t want to go there,’” said Marshall.

The city remains easy to reach and benefits from the presence of JetBlue and AirTran Airways.
“After September 11, 2001, I thought airports like Rochester’s were doomed to propeller service and that it would be the ruin of our meeting business,” said Marshall. “I was wrong. Our air service is great, and we are still holding our own.”

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