Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman and chief executive of First Mariner Bancorp and owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, will become chairman of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association next month.
Hale, whose appointment by Mayor Martin O'Malley was announced yesterday at BACVA's annual meeting, comes as the city moves forward with a $305 million project to build a publicly financed convention headquarters hotel. City officials have argued that the 752-room Hilton, to open in 2008, is needed to boost the city's faltering convention center.
Hale will succeed Clarence T. Bishop, O'Malley's chief of staff. Bishop was named BACVA chairman in March 2002 and presided over the convention bureau during a period when its operations came under scrutiny and its chief executive forced out.
Hale, unlike his low-profile predecessor, plans to take a more visible role in selling the city as a convention site and tourist destination. "I'd like to promote Baltimore, tourism and to get better utilization of the convention center," Hale said in an interview yesterday. "I'd like to have an activist board that's really going to get out and promote Baltimore. What I will bring is marketing. I think I'm going to be able to articulate what a great place this is."
Hale said O'Malley and Bishop approached him a couple of months ago about the position. After taking some time to consider the request, Hale said he agreed to take the post for a year, with the understanding that the term could be extended. His pending appointment was kept secret until yesterday's meeting, attended by about 300 area tourism officials and business leaders, at the convention center.
"I've been around the world promoting Baltimore," he said. "For me to pick up tomorrow and take a trip to London is nothing. It's the same as going to Cleveland."
Hale said he expects to be briefed in detail by BACVA staff after the first of the year. At this point, Hale said, he does not fully understand the situation at the Baltimore Convention Center, which has never met projections for attendance after a 1997 expansion.
"I want to come in as a blank slate and draw my own conclusions," he said. "I look at it, as a businessman, as an underutilized asset."
Miss USA Pageant
Leslie R. Doggett, BACVA president and chief executive, said she first worked with Hale when he was co-chair of the Miss USA Pageant, held in Baltimore for the first time last year. The event is scheduled to be held here again in April. Hale helped make that project happen and was one of its enthusiastic champions, Doggett said.
"He is very enthusiastic about the concept of the city," Doggett said. "He's a great ambassador. Clarence was a transition person. He righted the listing ship. It was a tough job. Now it's time to take it to the next level."
Doggett said she's excited to have Hale's enthusiasm and sales ability working to bring tourism and conventions here.
"I think he sees himself as a salesperson for the city," she said. "The more people we can have out there selling and pitching the city with one voice, the more successful we'll be."
Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said he is not convinced that having a chairman who occasionally travels will have much impact on overall sales numbers, but said Hale's business skills could be very useful in other ways.
"I think what a businessman can do in that role is to make sure that organization runs effectively, so that the problems that beset that organization won't happen again and that the organization is efficient and effective in doing what it ought to be doing," Norris said.
Also at the board meeting, BACVA officials reported that 387,000 people passed through the new Visitor Center in its first year.
Future hotel room bookings are up by 90,000 from the 2005 fiscal year, BACVA officials said.
There were 200,924 rooms booked between July 1 through yesterday for the 2006 fiscal year, compared with 110,435 nights booked during the corresponding period the previous fiscal year, according to Ronnie Burt, vice president of convention sales and services.
In addition to the announcement of Hale's new post, about half the board is being replaced as part of a regular rotation.
12 join board
O'Malley appointed 12 new members to the BACVA board, including: Sandy Bellamy, executive director, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture; Drew Berry, vice president and general manager, WMAR TV; Michelle Butt, news director, WBAL TV; Lawrence Cager, a community representative; Connie Caplan, director, mayor's cultural tourism committee; Kent Digby, senior general manager, Harborplace & The Gallery; and Marcia Harris, president and CEO, Restaurant Association of Maryland.
Also, Gail Smith-Howard, general manager, Hyatt Regency Baltimore; Gary Jordan, president, CEO of Azzam Jordan Inc.; Sam Lloyd, director, mayor's office of minority business development; Richard Morse, area general manager, Baltimore Marriott Waterfront; and Richard Staub, managing director, Tremont Suite Hotels.