Buffalo is ready to roll out the red carpet for college basketball fans this week.

First Niagara Center will host rounds two and three of the NCAA tournament, and Buffalo is pulling out all the stops to ensure fans have the best experience possible. Nearly 100 volunteers are ready to help visitors find their way through the Queen City on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

A $50,000 grant secured by Sens. Patrick Gallivan and Mark Grisanti helped ensure visitors have a great time in Buffalo. The grant will fund visitor readiness and a youth event on the tournament practice day, including signage, a reception and apparel for volunteers, police escorts and transportation and participant gifts for the youth event.

The volunteers will be deployed near the arena and armed with “Ask Me!” signs. They will distribute restaurant maps, an NFTA transportation tournament guide, the special NCAA edition of The Buffalo News and other visitor information about Buffalo to the thousands of college hoops fans.

Information tables specific for tournament visitors will be at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport visitors center and several partner hotels. Street pole banners arranged by Buffalo Place will welcome visitors on Main and Washington Streets and near the First Niagara Center.

Visit Buffalo Niagara’s Tweet team of nearly two dozen members will monitor the hashtag #Buffhoops on Twitter to answer questions visitors may Tweet out; they will also engage with fans on social media. The Tweet team will be out in the streets during the intermission between games on Thursday providing real-time information on downtown restaurants.

A team of organizations, not-for-profits and government entities have collaborated for event preparations, including The MAAC Conference, Canisius College, Niagara University, First Niagara Center, The Buffalo Sabres, the city of Buffalo, Buffalo Police Department, Erie County, Buffalo Place, the NFTA, numerous hotels and restaurants and the Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission.

“I was pleased to secure this funding,” said State Senator Mark Grisanti. “It will help provide basketball fans with the best experience possible in Buffalo this week. Buffalo has emerged as a premier venue for collegiate sports competitions, and this grant will help ensure the Queen City remains an attractive option for future tournaments.”

State Senator Patrick Gallivan added, “I am thrilled to be part of the host committee for this great event, which will showcase great basketball and, more importantly, our regional assets to the tens of thousands of visitors and fans of the NCAA tournament. This event, which we have hosted previously with great success, will be a tremendous economic benefit for area hotels, restaurants and businesses. I look forward to the tournament and to helping promote all the good Western New York has to offer.”

“Erie County and Buffalo will be putting their best foot forward again this year as the NCAA tournament returns to downtown Buffalo, bringing thousands of fans to our region and showcasing all that we have to offer,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “As in past tournaments, this year once again gives us an opportunity to shine when the national spotlight is on us, and I am confident that all who come to town for the games will leave with positive memories of their time here and will want to return again. A first-rate experience awaits from the opening tip off to the final buzzer, so we welcome our guests and hope their favorite teams do well.”

Added Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, ”March Madness is a wonderful and exciting opportunity to again showcase the City of Buffalo to NCAA basketball fans from across the country. Sports is so much a part of Buffalo’s history and everyday life. With $4.3 billion in new economic development activity underway in our city, NCAA visitors will be staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants and experiencing first-hand the great progress in Buffalo. I want to thank everyone who has helped to get our city ready for this great sporting event that promises to bring more energy to Buffalo’s resurgence.”

“I encourage visitors who are looking for more information on where to stay, play, shop and eat while in town to check out our website, visitbuffaloniagara.com or stop by our Visitor Center in the Market Arcade at 617 Main Street,” said Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler. “Our visitors will also find Visit Buffalo Niagara information booths at host hotels throughout downtown as well as Buffalo ambassadors on the streets of the city who will be carrying “Ask Me” signs. We encourage you to do just that – ask them!”