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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds were recognized for their business excellence in a variety of departments at last month’s AHL Team Business Meetings.

For their season-long #WeAre413 campaign, the Thunderbirds organization took home the league award for Marketing Campaign of the Year. The Thunderbirds returned to the ice in 2021 after opting out of the 2020-21 shortened season. This campaign messaging’s goal was to speak to the pride felt by each and every resident of the greater Western Mass region, as well as the longstanding hockey history of the city.

This marks the second time the Thunderbirds have been recognized for having the Marketing Campaign of the Year. The club also received the award following the 2018-19 season for its #RiseUp campaign.

#WeAre413 got underway with the team’s return to the ice on Oct. 16, with legendary NHL broadcast voice Mike “Doc” Emrick narrating the journey the Thunderbirds and the Springfield community experienced to get back on the ice. The full video can be viewed here.

“We wanted to establish a campaign that would speak to the rallying of our community for our triumphant return to play in 2021-22,” said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. “#WeAre413 showcased our fans’ passion for hockey and our players’ shared goal of bringing the Calder Cup back to Springfield. By the time the Calder Cup Finals arrived, Springfield was the center of the AHL world thanks to the unwavering support of this community. This award further validates our belief that Springfield is one of the best hockey cities in this league.”

In addition to the Marketing Campaign of the Year, the Thunderbirds achieved a pair of milestones in both the ticket sales and corporate sales departments. As part of the award recognition at the Team Business Meetings, AHL member clubs that hit benchmarks pertaining to tickets sold and corporate sponsorship revenue were honored.

The ticket sales team received honors for reaching 600 new full season equivalents (FSEs) during the 2021-22 season, where one FSE equates to one

Conventions & Meetings Daily News Events Meetings & Conventions

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield College Board of Trustees recently announced the outcome of its 2022-23 board election results during its annual spring meeting.

William Burke III was re-elected as chair for the board of trustees. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola College, and also received a master of Business Administration from Loyola College Sellenger School of Management.

The following individuals have been elected to serve a three-year term on the board of trustees (Class of 2025):

  • Mark Elgart is president and chief executive officer at Cognia in Alpharetta, Ga. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College, a master of Education from Westfield State College (now university), and a doctor of Education from the University of Massachusetts.
  • Pia Flanagan is chief of staff to the chief executive officer at MassMutual in Springfield. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a juris doctor from Emory University School of Law.
  • Peter Pappas is a wealth management associate at Morgan Stanley in Springfield. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Kenyon College, a Master of Arts from Union College, and a master of Education from Springfield College.
  • Suzanne Robotti is the founder and president of MedShadow Foundation in New York, N.Y. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.

The following individuals have been elected as new members to serve a three-year term on the Springfield College Board of Trustees (Class of 2025):

  • Terry Powe is principal of Elias Brookings School in Springfield, Mass. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College.
  • Anthony Sarage is a podiatrist and partner at Western Massachusetts Podiatry Associates in East Longmeadow, Mass. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College and a doctor of Podiatric Medicine from Temple University.

The following individuals have been elected to serve a five-year term on the Springfield College Board of Trustees (Class of 2027):

  • Denise Alleyne is a retired vice president for student services at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Springfield College in 1973 and a graduate degree in 1974.
  • Douglass L. Coupe is the retired vice president of State Street Global Investor Services of Boston. Coupe has been a member of the Board of Trustees for more than 20 years serving as chair from 2011 to 2015. He earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and certificate of advanced studies at Springfield College, and he received an honorary doctor of Humanics degree from the College in 2016.

Samantha Hourihan, a native of Bridgewater, will continue to serve as a student trustee until January 2023. A physical therapy major, Hourihan has been named to dean’s list multiple times and is a member of the women’s basketball team.

Gizzelle Abanador, a native of Ludlow, will continue to serve as student trustee-Elect until January 2023 and then serve as student trustee from January-December 2023. She is a biology major.

David Henke, a native of Brookfield, Conn., was elected as student trustee-elect for January-December 2023. He is a secondary education major.

Conventions & Meetings Daily News

SPRINGFIELDDowntown Springfield Toastmasters kicked off its 25th anniversary year by announcing its officers for 2022/23. They are:

President: Steve Lanning (eight-year member);

• Vice president, Education: Andrew Watt (nine-year member);

• Vice president, Membership: Mechelle Decouteau (one-year member);

• Vice president, Public Relations: Shera Cohen (18-year member);

• Secretary/Treasurer: Dave Anderson (14 year member);

• Sergeant-at-Arms: Steve Lanning (eight-year member)

Toastmasters is not a course that is graded, but a club in which members give impromptu and planned speeches. It is an opportunity to learn, practice, and be evaluated in a non-threatening setting.

Conventions & Meetings Daily News Women in Businesss

HOLYOKE — The Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (YPS) welcomed Elizabeth Hillis, business development associate at WWLP 22 News, to its Board of Directors.

“I’m excited to share my skills with the board and learn new things about the area,” Hillis said. “I’m thrilled to be able to help with the amazing events our organization has to offer. Being a Springfield YPS member is a great way to develop your network, meet other professionals, and become more involved in your community. I can’t wait to get started!”

Conventions & Meetings Sections
Blantyre Takes Its Guests to Another Place and Period

BlantyreWhile there are many words and phrases that have been used to describe Blantyre, the Gilded-age mansion in Lenox that is now a luxury resort coveted by business and leisure travelers alike, the most common refrain is that a visit there is like ‘going back in time.’

And guests will use such language to convey many different thoughts.

Commonly, it’s used in reference to the time, a century or more ago, when the Berkshires became the summer home for many of the affluent Americans who gave the Gilded Age its name and its lore, and ‘cottages’ like Blantyre dotted the landscape. Meanwhile, for the many fans of the PBS series Downton Abbey, a visit to the resort hotel provides an opportunity to see and taste the opulence and lifestyle of the Earl and Countess of Grantham — but without all the drama.

For those who know the story of Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, proprietress of the stately retreat for the past 33 years, a stay at Blantyre also provides a window into her childhood.

Ann Fitzpatrick Brown and Simon Dewar

Ann Fitzpatrick Brown and Simon Dewar have positioned Blantyre as a destination for discerning travelers and groups.

Due to the success of her entrepreneurial parents, John Fitzpatrick and Janes Hayes Pratt Fitzpatrick, Ann and her sibling had the opportunity to see the world when they were young, and their visits come to life through more than 2,000 novels and picture books shelved in Blantyre’s many rooms.

“My father was a traveler, and we always went to beautiful places,” Fitzpatrick Brown recalled of her childhood. “I remember as a very young child going to Italy and the Hotel Spendido in Portofino, and I saw those white canvas umbrellas [on the esplanade]; every June we’d go to a place in Ireland, and when I was 10, I went to school in Switzerland.”

Beyond travel, Fitzpatrick Brown also developed passions for art, books, music, and fine cuisine early in life, and Blantyre reflects all of those interests — through everything from the décor to the menu to the wine list.

And while visiting the past, guests at Blantyre are certainly enjoying the present. Indeed, the resort enjoys the distinction of being one of four Forbes 5-star hotels in the Bay State, and the only one not in Boston. It is also in the globally elite category of hotels known as Relais et Chateaux properties, which must pass the most stringent standards for excellence in the hospitality industry.

Such accolades — but mostly the track record for fine service that earned them — have made Blantyre a popular, and repeat, landing spot for corporate and leisure travelers and accepted destination for business meetings and family gatherings.

The octagonal breakfast room

The octagonal breakfast room is one of many opulent and intriguing spaces at Blantyre.

And when a business or group books the retreat, it books the entire retreat for what Fitzpatrick Brown calls “full-property takeovers,” meaning all 100 acres and every facility.

Corporate meetings and events at Blantyre include, well, everything. True to her strict rule of privacy, Fitzpatrick Brown would not say which corporations have taken their business there, but admitted they are “major” and usually in the Fortune-100 category.

The large music room is turned into a boardroom with the requisite AV equipment, large U-shaped table, and plush leather chairs, and the grounds and all amenities are available for the company’s daily use.

Aside from corporate meetings, there are also unique gatherings of the well-to-do. One example she cited, with very limited details, is that of a wealthy woman who flies her friends to exotic places every year to have their book-club meeting.

“Like her, our guests can go anywhere in the world, but they choose to come to Blantyre,” said Fitzpatrick Brown. Instead of, say, the French Riviera or the Swiss Alps, the book club will return for a second year to Blantyre.

As her vague comments suggest, guests also enjoy something else — privacy, before, during, and after their stay, something coveted by this discerning constituency.

“That’s the rule, said Fitzpatrick Brown, who was given the assignment of restoring the abandoned and derelict mansion when her father acquired it in 1980, and has considered it a labor of love.

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest visited Blantyre and talked at length with Fitzpatrick Brown and others about what makes this resort a true destination that guests return to year after year.


History Lessons

Blantyre’s main house was built at the height of the Gilded Age in 1902 by Robert Paterson, an association of the Vanderbilts. The mansion was built on the site of a more modest home known as Highlawn, an estate that included a carriage house and potting shed that were retained by Paterson and are still part of the current Blantyre complex.

The patio off the music room

The patio off the music room offers guests a place to enjoy Blantyre’s finest wines before dinner.

For more than 10 years, the mansion was the site of fabulous parties and opulence, but with the introduction of the income tax in 1913, the curtain came down on the Gilded Age. For the next 60 years, Blantyre went through several transitions in ownership and eventually fell into serious physical decline.

But while the historic mansion was falling into disrepair, the Fitzpatricks were writing a number of business stories.

The first was the now-famous Country Curtains window-treatment boutique, which they launched in 1955. As that business grew, the Fitzpatricks acquired the failing Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, moved Country Curtains there, and restored the inn to its former glory. The family also acquired the Porches Inn next to Mass MoCA in North Adams.

Fitzpatrick Brown was a vice president at Country Curtains in 1980 when her career took a dramatic turn after her parents decided to take on another reclamation project.

“My father was at a bank meeting, and Blantyre, which had gone bankrupt for a second time, came up for sale,” Fitzpatrick recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll buy it.’”

The purchase price was $257,000, but the family knew that it would have to invest millions to bring it back to its former elegance.

Fitzpatrick Brown and her mother would invest more than money in this venture — they would also inject their imaginations and collective love of the arts, travel, music, and more.

Fitzpatrick Brown, who was formerly trained in sculpture — she earned a bachelor of arts from the University of Colorado —  said Blantyre has become her canvas.

“A room to me is a piece of sculpture, and every room is all about not having one focal point,” she explained of her decorating style. “Some people like to decorate with one focal point, but I think it’s more relaxing to have all the rooms just flow together.

“Not everyone is going to like Blantyre, décor-wise. Minimalists will go running — they’ll run out the door quickly,” she went on, adding that perhaps the one word she would use to describe Blantyre is ‘romantic.’

Using a few more words, Travel and Leisure magazine called Blantyre the ‘Best Value over $550’ in 2007. Fitzpatrick Brown said she and her guests laughed at that designation, because a stay at the resort is very expensive, starting at $600 and ranging up to $2,000 a night year-round (two-night minimum), not including dinner.

But Fitzpatrick Brown and Simon Dewar, the resort’s general manager, say there is value that comes in many forms at this destination — from the no-tipping policy to the depth of the wine list,to the elaborate dinner menu.


Advice — on the House

When Blantyre opened year-round in 2005, the addition of a new spa in the 19th-century Potting Shed made Blantyre a more attractive option for the meeting and leisure travel industry, said Fitzpatrick Brown, noting that it has played host to a number of corporate retreats.

Guests can choose from among 21 opulent rooms, eight in the elaborate main mansion (many with fireplaces), 10 in the quaint Carriage House, and three more in cottages.  The main house has a lavish music room with its Steinway piano, used for corporate meetings and weddings, in addition to the glass-enclosed conservatory and the octagonal breakfast room. Blantyre is adorned with fresh flowers in every room, every day, and is known for its award-winning French cuisine and deep wine cellar.

“Everyone says that they feel like they’ve been transported back in time to a bygone era of gentler times; romance and elegance,” said Fitzpatrick Brown, noting that, since Downton Abbey made its debut in 2011, she’s heard many guests compare the resort and its amenities to that stately English manor.

“What that show has done is give us a category to compare to,” she said with a laugh, adding that the point of reference has become another marketing strategy in some respects, although Blantyre thrives almost entirely through word-of-mouth referrals.

Meanwhile, Dewar’s British accent and engaging personality help put guests in that Downton Abbey state of mind.

He became general manager in March 2012 after retiring as a British Army major, ending a career that included duty in the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and other stations around the world.

He oversees a staff of 70 full- and part-time employees in the summer, and one that is somewhat smaller in the winter, and told BusinessWest that it’s not a stretch to go from the business of the military to the hotel industry.

“It’s not that dissimilar from commanding and managing soldiers, perhaps a few less bullets and grenades, and no need to wear a helmet every day,” he said jokingly. “And guests are demanding; they expect a very high level of service.”

Dewar’s foray to a new career in retirement led him to a culinary school in Connecticut and work at Blantyre, but Fitzpatrick Brown saw the leadership qualities that fit the resort perfectly.

Dewar joins the husband-and-wife team of Arnaud Cotar, Blantyre’s executive chef, who has been with the hotel for several years and focuses his French cuisine on local fruits and vegetables, and his wife, Christelle, who started as a server and is now the sommelier.

When the retreat opened year-round, the wine became important as a marriage to the food, said Fitzpatrick Brown, adding that Cotar’s extensive knowledge of wine, through her past education in Europe, led her to her current position.

Now with a 12,000-bottle wine cellar, Blantyre’s select vintages have taken center stage, and have prompted well-attended wine-tasting dinners that have introduced many people to the landmark and given it another source of business growth.

Fitzpatrick explained that some of those events in winter include outdoor ice skating in the ‘rink’ that is created by flooding the four Har-Tru tennis courts, and the “Sno Bar-B-Q,” which offers oysters on snowballs and shrimp cocktail, with Cointreau hot chocolate marshmallow floats.

In summer, when not visiting Tanglewood, the Norman Rockwell Museum, or walking to the Mount, guests can enjoy the heated outdoor pool or play on the formal, whites-required tennis courts and tournament-rated croquet lawns.

Parting Gifts

Fitzpatrick Brown said she’s never felt competition, locally or otherwise, because Blantyre is so different.

“We’re a house more than a hotel,” she said. “And that’s one thing my parents always lived by, because you can’t always be watching the other guy; it’s so destructive. So you just go full force, do the best you can, and it works out.”

It has worked out at Blantyre for many reasons — from that wine list to the views of the Berkshires; from the cuisine to the works of art created by Fitzpatrick Brown as she put her stamp on every room.

But mostly because a trip to this resort really is a journey back in time.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Conventions & Meetings Sections
Hotel Group Gives New Look, Feel, and Name to a Springfield Landmark

Shardool Parmar

Shardool Parmar says the large Mount Tom ballroom on the 12th floor showcases the downtown Springfield skyline and Connecticut River.

Shardool and Kishore Parmar, president and vice president respectively of the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group (PVHG), understand that they have two sizeable challenges when it comes to the property at 711 Dwight St. in Springfield.

The first is to get people to stop talking about it in the past tense — a still-common practice, especially when it comes to the rotating restaurant on the top floor that was once a major destination in the region — and using one of the names that used to be on the building, especially Holiday Inn.

The second is to convince several constituencies, from families to business travelers to event planners, to embrace the new name over the door — LaQuinta Inn & Suites — as one that represents both quality and an attractive option to the deep roster of other players in the local hospitality sector.

And the brothers Parmar believe that a recent $4.5 million renovation project, one that accompanied the new brand name on the landmark — will go a long way toward tackling both.

Indeed, the Parmars say they’re already noticing that while some people still talk nostalgically about the revolving restaurant, named Top o’ the Round, and how they had they had their high school prom there, many more are now talking about the new Mount Tom Ballroom, carved out of the space once occupied by the restaurant, and its stunning views of the Connecticut River and the Springfield skyline.

Meanwhile, they say the facility is catching the eye of event planners, some of whom are still getting quizzical looks, and more, when they reveal their choice for the company’s next function.

“Just recently, we’ve had meeting planners go back to their superiors after booking here and the superiors say, ‘there’s no way we’re going to book over there; are you crazy?’” he said with the laugh. “But they haven’t seen the space.”

Those who have generally report a facility that’s much brighter than the old Holiday Inn or, later, the Inn Place or CityPlace Inn and Suites, and also more customer friendly.

“This is probably one of the nicest looking LaQuinta hotels you’ll see in the whole country,” said Shardool. Indeed, PVGH recently won the Best Conversion award for all LaQuinta Inns & Suites in the U.S.

The Parmars realize that while they’ve made some progress with those aforementioned challenges, real success will take time and energy. It’s an assignment they embrace as one of the more visible components of a growing hospitality chain that also includes facilities in Ludlow and Hadley.

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest toured what had been the forgotten hotel in Springfield, and gained a sense for what could happen next for this intriguing slice of the city’s skyline.


Suite Success

Wanting a better life for his two young sons, Laxman Parmar, PVHG’s CEO, brought the family to America in 1987, and eventually purchased the Seven Gables Motel (now Howard Johnson’s) on Boston Road in Springfield.

His two young sons essentially learned the hospitality business from the ground up at the motel, handling a number of odd jobs, from changing beds to cleaning bathrooms to tackling landscaping duties. And their learning opportunities multiplied as their father eventually came to preside over a hotel group that now also includes two facilities in Hadley, the Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn; and the Comfort Inn in Ludlow, which will soon change over to the Holiday Inn Express name in April.

Shardool and Kishore both enjoyed hospitality, but pursued degrees in engineering, and took jobs in related fields. A chemical engineer, Shardool worked in the biotech industry, while Kishore, an electrical engineer, worked at a Boston-area provider of information technology services.

They returned to the family business, however, when their father suffered a second stroke in 2005. And they took what they learned in the engineering field with them, skills and knowledge that have helped them shape decisions that have enabled the hotel chain to continue growing.

“If you look at the greatest CEOs in business history, most of them were engineers,” Shardool explained. He referenced Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who was a chemical engineer, and former Coca-Cola chairman Roberto Goizueta, a Cuban immigrant and also a chemical engineer.

“Engineers are good in business because we can quickly identify problems, and we have a great understanding of the mechanics of a business, not in the sense of equipment, but in the sense of what steps and what procedures need to take place to achieve the right outcome,” Shardool explained. “So when it comes down to making sure that rooms are clean, we don’t just take somebody’s word for it, we verify it.”

Kishore agreed.

Kishore Parmar

Kishore Parmar says customers are impressed by the contemporary new lobby of LaQuinta Inn & Suites.

“The worst thing you can do is let a problem linger,” he said. “And engineers hate problems that linger, we want solutions, very quickly.”

These attributes and attitudes certainly came into play as the Parmar brothers first assessed the risks and opportunities involved with the former Holiday Inn, and also with moving forward after they eventually triumphed in the competition to acquire the property from the company that was operating it in receivership.

While all those who looked at the facility saw a property in a advanced state of decline, the Parmars saw something else — what Shardool described as ‘great bones.’

“We saw what happened to the hotel more as neglect, and lack of good management than anything else,” said Shardool. “We essentially had an idea of what we wanted here, but it takes time.”

One of the first priorities for the new owners was to rebrand a facility they had already been renamed the CityPlace Inn and Suites. What ensued was in-depth research into national franchise options, and analysis about what might work within the Greater Springfield market.

This research eventually focused on LaQuinta, a name and a chain that is far better known in other regions of the country. What the brand offered was a reputation for quality (at least in those markets where it’s a known commodity), and an opportunity to succeed within a specific niche — a lower-priced product that appeals to those who don’t want or need all the amenities of a full-service hotel.

But what it lacked was name recognition in the 413 area code.

“The greatest thing and the worst thing about LaQuinta is that nobody knows what LaQuinta is,” Shardool explained to BusinessWest. “The greatest thing is that nobody has a preconceived idea of what it is, but of course the downside is that it’s not as well-known.”


Room for Improvement

Once they had zeroed in on the LaQuinta brand, the PVHG began formalizing what became a $4.5 million renovation, funded in part by a $2.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and a secondary loan from NUVO Bank & Trust Company, along with PVHG’s own funds.

The motivation for the massive undertaking was to change the look, feel, and attitudes concerning the property, said Kishore, and the LaQuinta chain facilitated these efforts by providing a great amount of flexibility, or individuality when it came to design elements and overall layout of the facility.

“Our goal from the beginning was to have as few walls as possible,” added Shardool, adding the desired effect was a much brighter, far more modern, more customer-friendly facility, from the front lobby to the 12th-floor facilities, and the two brothers believe all that has been accomplished.

The hotel now offers 182 rooms, down from the original 207, and 28 suites, said Kishore, adding that the work was phased in to enable the facility to remain open during the rehab process. The Parmars would close down two to three floors to gut and renovate, while the other floors remained open for business.

The bright, contemporary, open design that allows people to move more freely through the hotel has generated strong word-of-mouth referrals, said the brothers.  Moving the complimentary breakfast down from the dark and cramped top floor to the main lobby area has allowed the staff to meet the customers during breakfast or at the comfortable bar with it’s lime green pendant lamps and stylish, geometric design bar-height chairs.

On the 12th floor what had been three rooms has been transformed into one large function area, renamed the Mt. Tom Ballroom, which comfortably accommodates 260 people for sit-down functions, and 400 for cocktail events. The Summit Room, also on the top floor, can be split into two separate rooms and can hold up to 80 seated guests and 200 for cocktail functions.

Starting from essentially scratch, sales staff at the hotel report considerable interest in the 12th floor’s facilities, with a number of events already booked.


Mint on the Pillow

Recent increased national advertising by LaQuinta has helped famililiarize people in this region with the brand, but the Parmars acknowledge that many still don’t know about their facility or its extensive renovations.

They hope to change all that through strong word-of-mouth marketing, and by creating positive experiences for those who choose what amounts to Springfield’s newest hotel.

“LaQuinta has a good leisure following, nationally, and Springfield is predominately a leisure and sports type of customer,” said Shardool. “The business market is not as strong in Springfield, but the hotel market is changing, and we know, it just takes time.”

And in time, they believe far fewer people will be talking about this landmark with the past tense.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Conventions & Meetings Sections
Hoop Tournament Brings Net Results for the Conference and the City

Matt Hollander

Matt Hollander says the MAAC tournament not only provides a boost for downtown business, it gives the city a chance to display its ability to handle large events.

The UMass Amherst McCormack Center for Sport Research & Education has been gathering some much-anticipated data this month.

The center has been commissioned to quantify the overall economic benefit to Springfield and the region from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Division I college basketball tournament, which recently wrapped up its second visit to Springfield, one during which the conference’s acronym became a discernable part of the local lexicon.

Nick Polimeni is naturally interested in what the study will show, but he told BusinessWest that he doesn’t have to wait for the numbers to declare that the tournament has been a success for Springfield and businesses in its downtown.

“I noticed a lot of different faces, a lot of team colors and team jerseys,” said Polimeni, manager of McCaffrey’s Public House on Main Street, just over a three-point shot’s distance from the MassMutual Center, where the tournament played out. “It was absolutely great for the downtown.”

Nadim Kashouh, owner of Nadim’s Mediterranean Restaurant and Grill, roughly a block from the arena, concurred. He wasn’t able to say if the 2013 tournament topped the first gathering in Springfield, but he could state with confidence that it provided a needed boost for businesses in the area.

“No doubt about it … it’s great for the city, and we need to see more of this type of event,” he told BusinessWest.

If Paul Lambert and Matt Hollander have their way, the city will see at least more of the MAAC tournament, and perhaps additional sporting events as well.

Lambert is vice president of Guest Experience and Programming for the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Hollander is general manager of the MassMutual Center. Both were part of the group that in 2009 convinced the MAAC to bring its tournament here from 2012 to 2014, and they will be among those trying to gain another three-year contract from the conference.

Hollander said the tournament has not only provided a boost for downtown businesses, including his own, but, perhaps more importantly, it has enabled the city to show that it can put on events of this magnitude, and that its mix of amenities and attractions provides a package that can be effectively sold.

“There are so many assets that we can brag about,” said Hollander. “I think, as locals, we sometimes forget, when you put it all together, how truly rich a fabric we have here.”

Lambert, meanwhile, said the first two tournaments staged in Springfield have shown how mutually beneficial the event has become for the Hall, the city, and the conference. The hoop shrine gains visibility and some additional visitorship from the three-day event, he noted, while the MAAC gains invaluable exposure from both the games and an elaborate exhibit on the conference that will be a feature in the Hall for at least the next four years. “The MAAC is the only conference to have a relationship like that with the Hall of Fame.”

Richard Ensor, now in his 25th year as commissioner of the MAAC, was part of the site-selection team that eventually chose Springfield. He said the city’s local organizing committee (LOC) has succeeded not only in effectively selling Springfield as a host for such events, but also in delivering a solid product.

“The LOC has been well-coordinated from the start of the bidding three years ago, their implementation, and the rollout of this year’s event,” he said just before tip-off for the men’s final. “They know how to put events on; they have a history of it.”

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the how the MAAC tournament came to Springfield, and why, in addition to the men’s and women’s champions — Iona and Marist, respectively — there are many other winners to be counted.


Full-court Press

Lambert remembers the MAAC tournament site-selection committee’s first major visit to Springfield in 2009 — part of an 18-month-long bidding process — and how it didn’t get off to a fast start.

“We had the feeling when they first got here that they were on their way to ‘somewhere else,’” he recalled.  “They were tired; it had been a long day on the road for them. But once we got to talking about Springfield, the MassMutual Center, the Hall of Fame … by the time they left, it felt like they had gone from modest interest to some very strong interest.”

Backing up a few more years, Lambert said that, through much of its history, the MAAC’s tournament has been played on the home courts of conference members — Canisius College, Fairfield University, Iona College, Loyola University Maryland, Manhattan College, Marist College, Niagara University, Rider University, Saint Peter’s College, and Siena College. But in late 2008, coaches and administrators had expressed to the MAAC Council of Presidents and league office that these home-court sites had become too much of a playing and recruiting advantage for the host school. The council then decided to take the tournament to a neutral site (Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. was the first), and in late 2009, Springfield’s MassMutual Center won the bid for 2012 through 2014.

Looking back, both Lambert and Hollander said the city’s mix of strong points, from the Hall of Fame to its abundance of hotel rooms near the MassMutual Center, to its previous history of hosting college basketball games and tournaments, enabled it to prevail.

“That part, I think, is the easiest part of the sale, because we do have such a good infrastructure for these types of events,” said Hollander, noting that Springfield had a lengthy run hosting the Division II national championship tournament, and had demonstrated the ability to create a championship environment of restaurant dine-arounds, welcome signage, marketing efforts, educational programming, and ancillary events leading up to the games.

Ensor said the city’s history with basketball tournaments helped sell the site-selection committee, but so did the MassMutual Center’s track record for staging a variety of sporting events, and the Hall’s ability to stage gatherings such as its annual induction ceremony.

Ken Taylor, associate commissioner of the MAAC, noted that getting downtown business owners to support the event is what has made Springfield so successful attracting more than 6,000 fans of the 10 schools and 20 teams in each of the first two years.

“Our member schools stress two things that they enjoy about Springfield: first, the hospitality provided by the hotels, and the arena is first-class; second, the MassMutual Center is a neutral site — meaning no team has a home-court advantage,” Taylor went on. “Those two factors create a first-rate atmosphere for our student athletes, coaches, and fans.”

And the presence of those constituencies, especially the fans, creates opportunities for a host of businesses.

Polimeni cited a party he hosted for a group of Loyola alumni on the Saturday of tournament week as just one example. “It was huge … there were probably 60 of them, and they had a great time.”


The Big Dance

Assessing the first two years of the MAAC tournament’s presence in Springfield, conference administrators and LOC members alike say that, while the event remains a work in progress and all involved would like to see greater attendance at the games, the conference, the city, the Hall, and area businesses are all benefiting in some ways.

The MAAC exhibit at the Hall of the Fame is a good example, said Ensor, adding that, from the conference’s perspective, it provides an uncommon opportunity for visibility.

“This association with the Basketball Hall of Fame offers the MAAC the opportunity to be directly associated with the history of the sport,” he told BusinessWest. “And it provides the MAAC and its institutions with unique branding within the college-basketball community.”

But the MAAC is not alone in reaping rewards from the exhibit. Indeed, the conference invested more than $100,000 in the display, which was created by the Indian Orchard-based firm 42 design fab, which has handled a number of projects for the shrine. Meanwhile, businesses within the Hall complex, including Max’s Tavern, which hosted two events during tournament week, have also seen a boost.

“People can see how the investment on the part of the LOC brings returns,” said Ensor. “Not only that the fans and teams are spending, but we as a conference are spending.”

For the city, the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, and MassMutual Center, there are many benefits as well, said Hollander and Lambert, noting the obvious boost given to hotels, restaurants, and clubs. But there is the added vibrancy from events such as this year’s FanFest, sponsored by MGM Springfield. It featured a series of basketball-related events for children and adults of all ages, including relay races and dribbling and shooting contests. In addition, for Xfinity’s Bounce to the Arena, a mile-long parade of kids and adults (and some MAAC team cheerleaders) assembled at the Hall of Fame Center Court to shoot baskets, then proceed to dribble their way up Columbus Avenue, across to Main Street, and into the MassMutual Center.

“They were led by police cars, and folks were honking, cheering them on, and once they got to the center, they got to play at all the interactive FanFest games,” said Hollander.

But perhaps the greatest benefit to the city and those working to book meetings and conventions is the opportunity the MAAC conference provides to show what that team can do, said Hollander, and how this area can become host to other sporting events.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase Springfield and the entire region,” he explained, “and also provide ample evidence that we stage events like this successfully.”


Final Buzzer

While ecstatic players from Iona and Marist were cutting down the nets following their wins in early March, and thus creating their own fond memories of Springfield, Lambert, Hollander, and others were already preparing themselves for the next bidding process for the MAAC tournament.

A request for proposals will be issued in April, and the selection will likely be made by the end of the year, said Ensor.

Whether Springfield prevails in that contest remains to be seen, but at present it seems to have a winning formula, one that is yielding net results, literally and figuratively, for all the parties involved.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]