Gretchen Hall to head LR Convention Bureau | Arkansas Blog

Gretchen Hall to head LR Convention Bureau

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GRETCHEN HALL
  • GRETCHEN HALL
Gretchen Hall, who's been interim director of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau since Dan O'Byrne left for a job in Florida, was chosen to be the new director today by the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission.

The commission voted unanimously after going into executive session for nearly 30 minutes.

“I have a love for this city and this destination that runs deep in me,” Hall said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Hall said her first priority will be to get new bond projects in the works as current bonds expire in 2015. She also said she needs to find a sales leader to replace Dennis Tracy who left last month for a job in Florida.

Hall’s starting salary will be $117,500. She started in 2001 on the operations side of the commission and moved to sales and marketing about six years ago. Hall grew up in Sheridan, went to Mt. St. Mary’s in Little Rock. She then went on to Lyon College and has a masters degree from UALR in business administration.

Now some of the city politics underlying this:

A search committee initially produced two names, both in similar jobs in other cities — John Rolfe of Wichita and John Oros of Memphis. Under prodding from Mayor Mark Stodola, two more names were added for commission consideration, Hall and former city director Michael Keck.

The commission met on the matter Wednesday, by conference call yesterday and again today. Keck, a St. Vincent hospital executive, dropped by the wayside yesterday. He was heavily opposed by major hotel operators, who backed the Peabody's favored candidate, Oros. The knock on Keck was that he wasn't currently in the convention and tourism business. The Peabody knew Oros from its Memphis operation. The Peabody's interest cut both ways. One of the convention bureau's biggest business deals is its concessions contract with the Peabody for the adjoining Statehouse Convention Center. Some had questions about the appearances of hiring a candidate heavily backed by the hotel.

Rolfe had some strong supporters, too. But Little Rock reportedly pays less than either Wichita or Memphis and the timing is not good for any city agency to offer a big pay increase. There was concern that it couldn't offer much better than a lateral move to outside candidates.

Stodola's interest in the choice — and his expansion of the list to include a candidate eventually chosen — will naturally raise questions about the mayor's interest in trying to carve more from A&P revenues for general city use. (The law limits transfers primarily to parks, but offloading park expenses on A&P frees money for other purposes.) A successful sales tax election lessens that concern, but a successful sales tax election is not a sure thing.

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