Panel decides on 3 finalists to head convention bureau

Decision could be made as early as next week

mayor to meet with them

April 25, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The search for a new chief executive for Baltimore's beleaguered convention bureau has been narrowed to three candidates, and a decision could be announced as early as next week.

The organization's search committee received 82 resumes from applicants for the position vacated Feb. 1 by Carroll R. Armstrong, who resigned under pressure after seven years as president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

"I think we've been able to draw from the best across the country," said Catherine E. Pugh, co-chair of the search committee and a City Council member. "We feel we have the best three candidates. It's hard to distinguish between them. I think we're on target."

The finalists, chosen by a handful of search committee members, will meet with Mayor Martin O'Malley and with the full board, BACVA officials said. Pugh would not reveal the names of the finalists.

"The mayor will meet with the finalists and share his views [with] them before the board makes its final decision," said Rick Abbruzzese, the mayor's deputy press secretary. "He's looking for someone with strong leadership qualities and a solid grasp of the tourism and convention industry. Obviously, BACVA has a strong economic impact on the city, and it's important for the mayor to have a close working relationship with the new CEO."

The committee that selected the finalists also includes Robert L. Steele III, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Baltimore; Roslyn L. Smith, manager of human resources for Northrop Grumman and a BACVA board member; Theodore G. Venetoulis, former Baltimore County executive and president of H&V Communications; Michelle Whelley, president of the Downtown Partnership; and an alternate member, Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation.

"These are very key people in high places," Pugh said of the finalists. "They're all capable of running a bureau of our size."

Armstrong was forced out after a stinging outside review of BACVA's operation by Performance Management Inc. of Stamford, Conn., which criticized him for mismanagement and for inflating hotel room night bookings.

The convention business has continued to sag. BACVA's bookings for hotel rooms in the first half of this fiscal year plunged 62 percent from a year earlier. At the same time, the Baltimore Convention Center's operating deficit is swelling and is expected to nearly double this fiscal year and continue to increase in fiscal 2004.

Baltimore is not the only city on a quest for new convention leadership. Dallas and Louisville, Ky., also are seeking convention bureau chiefs.

"There are a finite number of good candidates," said Marshall Murdaugh, BACVA's acting chief executive. "You're looking for people who have a track record in destination management. There aren't that many people involved in it as a CEO. There are probably no more than 50 or 75. The universe of potential, qualified stellar candidates is limited."

Baltimore has paid a search firm to conduct background checks and verify references for its finalists, Pugh said.

The next regular BACVA board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. It is possible that a special meeting could be called in addition to that regular meeting, Pugh said.

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