Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Convention center loses recently hired sales exec

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Las Vegas sales executive hired earlier this year to revive Cincinnati's slumping convention business has left the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bureau CEO Lisa Haller offered no explanation for Mark Wallisa's departure. Wallisa, hired in March after a yearlong nationwide search, could not be reached Tuesday.

"As of Dec. 1, Mark is no longer with the organization," Haller said through a spokesperson. "We, along with the Greater Cincinnati community, appreciate all his contributions and wish him well. It is a personnel issue, and we don't discuss personnel issues."

The bureau and Wallisa signed a confidentiality pact agreeing not to publicly discuss his departure.

Haller appointed the bureau's vice president of marketing, Angela Berrigan, as interim vice president of sales and marketing. Berrigan, who once worked with Haller at Universal Studios in Southern California, joined the bureau in 2002.

Bureau chairman Dan Meyer said the board supports Haller's decisions on all personnel moves.

"Staffing is up to her," said Meyer, former Milacron CEO and long-time cheerleader for the $160 million expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. "I agree, it is a critical position for the convention center."

Many downtown hotel operators were surprised to learn that Wallisa no longer works with the bureau.

"We don't know the details - whether it was his choice or their choice," said Greg Kaylor, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. "From a hotel perspective, we're concerned about convention bookings in the city. I don't know what kind of damage this will do, if any, and what length of time it will take to find a replacement."

The poor economy, an overall decrease in business travel and disruption from the convention center construction have contributed to poor convention bookings in 2004 and beyond. Some worry that Wallisa's exit is yet another example of Cincinnati's convention woes.

Millennium Hotel general manager Rob Gauthier said a lot of effort was wasted in Wallisa's hiring and removal. He described Wallisa's job as a "monumental task."


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