Conventions job is said to go to Armstrong Native Baltimorean started in city in the industry

'I cut my teeth there'

Announcement from mayor expected by tomorrow

February 27, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

After a tumultuous nine months without a permanent director, Baltimore's convention bureau will soon be headed by a San Diego Convention Center executive who grew up here, sources said yesterday.

Carroll Armstrong, the San Diego center's marketing director, began his career in the convention industry as sales manager for the Baltimore Convention Center in 1978. Yesterday, he finished ahead of more than 100 other applicants in the search for a new executive director of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (BACVA).

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to formally announce the selection of Mr. Armstrong today or tomorrow, according to sources who requested anonymity.

On Sunday, Mr. Schmoke, who reportedly favored Mr. Armstrong from the beginning of the search, interviewed him and the other finalist, Kathleen Ratcliffe, director of convention marketing for the association, which is charged with luring conventions and tourists to the city.

Yesterday, BACVA's acting director, William Jews, informed the two finalists that Mr. Armstrong had been chosen, sources said. Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Jews declined comment.

In a statement last night, Mr. Schmoke said only that he had interviewed two candidates referred to him by the association's governing board and chose the one who had received the support of a "strong majority" of the board.

The mayor declined to elaborate or to identify the choice.

Mr. Armstrong, who grew up in the city and studied at the Peabody Conservatory, left Baltimore in 1981 to work at the Washington, D.C., convention bureau for about four years.

He held a similar job in New Orleans for four years, then moved to San Diego. Before entering the convention business, he worked as a jazz musician in New York City.

In an October interview, Mr. Armstrong said he had fond memories of Baltimore and was "flattered" to be a candidate for BACVA director."I cut my teeth there; I started my career in the business there, so Baltimore's been good to me," he said then.

The Schmoke administration has expressed frustration over the dearth of black conventions and meetings coming to Baltimore, leading some observers to suggest that the mayor would prefer a black chief of the convention bureau.

Mr. Armstrong is the only African-American among those who were considered major candidates for the position.

Critical time for BACVA

The selection of a new director comes at a critical time for BACVA, which has been dogged by controversy since Mr. Schmoke ousted its governing board in June in the midst of a $150 million expansion that will double the Convention Center's size.

With an operating budget of $2.8 million a year, BACVA must compete with other convention bureaus that spend two to three times as much money to attract conventions and tourists.

The association also has weathered a blow to its reputation among meeting planners nationwide -- who book $50 billion in conventions a year -- because of the ugly battle in which the mayor slashed $400,000 from BACVA's current budget, ousted its governing board and seized control of the new board.

As competing convention bureaus steadily upped the ante in increasingly competitive and sophisticated efforts to raise the number of visitors and their considerable contribution to local economies, Baltimore has spent less money.

BACVA leaders have repeatedly predicted serious erosion in Baltimore's $1 billion-a-year convention and tourism trade unless substantially more money is made available to promote the city.

The agency has been without a permanent director since Wayne C. Chappell resigned at the height of the feud over spending and control to head the Kansas City (Mo.) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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