BACVA decides it will release report, after all

Consultant's findings known to be critical

Board had refused

Walsh won't explain apparent turnabout

March 08, 2003|By June Arney and Bill Atkinson | June Arney and Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Under mounting pressure, Baltimore's convention and visitors bureau said yesterday that it will release to the public a consultant's report that roundly criticized its operations as ineffective and called its management weak.

After first promising to release the report, executives of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association reneged, and for weeks have refused to release the document.

As criticism grew, BACVA released a 15-page summary of the report on Feb. 21. But that did not quell demands for full disclosure.

"It's high time the information came out," said James B. Groner, president and chief executive of J.B. Groner Executive Search Inc., an executive search consulting firm in Claymont, Del.

"I'm sure the stakeholders are quite concerned and want this resolved."

William T. Walsh, general manager of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel and chairman of BACVA's review and evaluation committee, declined to elaborate on why the board decided to make the document public.

"There are so many factors going into it," he said. "I'm standing behind the board's decision to release the report."

BACVA, which annually receives millions of dollars in city and state funds, has been criticized for concealing the report by people ranging from ethics and management experts to local and state politicians.

Pressure intensified yesterday when members of a House of Delegates subcommittee approved an amendment to withhold nearly $2 million in state funds from Baltimore's convention center if BACVA didn't release the evaluation's results.

"They give the report, they get the money," said Montgomery County Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a member of the House Subcommittee on Education and Economic Development.

Madaleno said the report by Performance Management Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based consulting firm, would likely reveal more on BACVA's failures and mismanagement.

"Maybe BACVA should be operating in a different way to maximize our investment," he said.

"I think that is important to any taxpayer in the state."

The summary rebuked BACVA for weak leadership, a poorly managed sales team and for being ineffective in booking convention and tourism business to Baltimore -- its primary mission.

Other flaws

The summary also characterized BACVA as an operation burdened with too many layers of management, poorly defined roles and responsibilities for its employees and problems with internal controls, including auditing.

BACVA has been struggling for years, and only recently have its problems come to the surface.

Last month, BACVA's chief executive, Carroll R. Armstrong, was forced to resign the post he held for seven years. In addition, bookings for hotel rooms in the first half of this fiscal year had fallen 62 percent from a year earlier; the convention center's operating deficit is swelling and is expected to nearly double this fiscal year and continue to increase in fiscal 2004.

Despite promises that a $151 million expansion of the convention center, completed five years ago, would lure significantly more business to Baltimore, the complex is drawing smaller crowds than before the expansion, The Sun reported in June.

Extent of difficulties

BACVA's difficulties are so pervasive that industry experts believe it will take at least three to five years to turn the organization around.

The difficulties are so severe and have been ignored so long that a complete overhaul of its staff may be required, experts have said.

However, Marshall Murdaugh, a consultant who was brought in to run BACVA temporarily, believes that a recovery will occur much quicker.

Dirty laundry theory

Madaleno, the Montgomery County delegate, said he could only speculate about why BACVA waited so long before deciding to release the report.

"No one likes to show their dirty laundry to the world," Madaleno said.

"They don't want everyone to see it."

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