UPDATE: City lures new convention chief

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An executive headhunter had been dogging Leonard Hoops for years about various career opportunities around the country.

The executive vice president and chief customer officer of the San Francisco Travel Association dismissed the leads until recently, when he was told of the CEO vacancy at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association.

Hoops had been to Indianapolis on a study mission in 2005, while chief marketing officer of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“That was my first trip to Indianapolis. I was really, really impressed with the vision of the community,” said Hoops. “Indianapolis was everything Sacramento talked about but hadn’t done.”

The 46-year-old veteran of the hospitality industry will take over the ICVA post near race time, on May 31, and plans to spend three months soaking up the scene before polishing his strategy. He’s trying not to build any “preconceived notions” of how he’ll go about it, he said.

The general goals are clearer. Hoops arrives at a pivotal time, with $3 billion in new downtown meeting and lodging space recently opening, including the $275 million, 350,000-square-foot expansion of the Indiana Convention Center that opened in January. That project has doubled the size of the already cavernous facility, and a sluggish economy makes Hoops’ challenge even that much more challenging.

“The bottom line is we need to fill that convention center,” Hoops said about one of the goals handed down by ICVA’s chairman, Michael Browning.
Another: “To help build the Indy brand,” Hoops said.

In San Francisco, one of the nation’s hottest locations for conventions thanks in part to its natural attractions Indianapolis can’t top on its sunniest of days, Hoops didn’t compete directly with Indianapolis, per se. Conventions tend to rotate to different parts of the country in cycles.

“Indianapolis has definitely a first-tier convention and meeting product,” albeit one still coming into its own in notoriety compared with a Chicago, Las Vegas or Orlando, he added.

Hoops said Indianapolis has a lot going for it, including its hospitality. “It’s the best combination of savvy people with friendly people,” he said.

He also downplays the supposed weather disadvantage in the Midwest. “I’m looking out my window,” he said from his San Francisco office. “It’s 45 degrees and pouring rain.”

Hoops is regarded as a rising star in the hospitality industry.  He was named among the “25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing” by Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International.

Hoops replaces Don Welsh, who left Indianapolis in January to head the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau.

“Indianapolis has developed an exceptionally attractive convention and meeting package to go with its international reputation as a sports fan’s dream city,” Hoops said in a written statement.

Officials declined to say how much Hoops would be paid until the ICVA board formerly approves his compensation. Welsh was paid a base annual salary of $280,000 and was eligible for $56,000 in annual performance incentives.

In San Francisco, Hoops led a staff of 40. His new job in Indianapolis, which he’ll begin May 31, involves a staff of 59 and an annual budget of $13 million.

Hoops also arrives ahead of the 2012 Super Bowl scheduled for Indianapolis next February, assuming a labor dispute between players and the National Football League doesn't cancel it.

Hoops’ "proven sales results, extensive marketing expertise and strong convention-industry knowledge make him the ideal person to take Indianapolis to the next level and capitalize on the city’s new investments,” Michael Browning, chairman of the ICVA board, said in a prepared statement.

Among work in San Francisco, Hoops played a role in the renovation and expansion planning for San Francisco’s Moscone convention center. He helped manage a network of 13 international tourism development offices.

San Francisco has had a strong draw from both domestic and international visitors, with such attractions as Chinatown, Fisherman’s Warf, Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco drew an estimated 16 million visitors last year spending upward of $8 billion. The ICVA points to a study by Vantage Strategy that says about 18 million people visit the Circle City annually, with an economic impact of $3.4 billion.

Hoops recently told the San Francisco Examiner that hotel worker strikes were creating a “labor cloud” over that city and could threaten its tourism industry.  He said San Francisco needed to attract more business travelers, who tend to spend more per person than leisure travelers.

Hoops’ 25 years of California convention experience also includes a role as senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, and a similar role at San Jose’s bureau.

Hoops said he’s followed Indianapolis from afar. “I’ve long admired the vision of the region’s civic and tourism leaders and I’m excited to lead the ICVA’s efforts to bring more conventions and visitors to Indy.”

With a convention center now twice as large following the expansion, the ICVA and its new CEO will be under considerable pressure to fill it.
“It’s a pivotal time in the city’s convention history,” said ICVA spokesman Chris Gahl.


  • Hospitality is Big Business
    Welcome to Mr Hoops and his family.

    Indianapolis has a culture of Hoosier hospitality combined with a unmatched competitive spirit that rewards winners.

    Look no farther than the Butler Bulldogs NCAA basketball championship run, Indianapolis 500 race, or Colts/Pacers/Indians championships.

    We apply all this to our everyday lives in business and relationships.

    We look forward to great things from you.
  • Marketing Genius?
    I am excited that they hired someone who is keen at marketing. This is exactly what the ICVA needs at this point. His hope to build Indy's brand shows that he truly does like the city itself and wants everyone to benefit from the addition and attraction of more conventions rather than just the ICVA. Best of Luck to him and the ICVA's future!
  • StopTheHate
    I presume there will be a boycott conventions in Indiana because of anti-gay, anti-union, and immigration legislation. On the upside, we might be a more attractive site for NRA conventions, Tea Party rallies, and high-haired religions assemblies. I pity the new director for accepting this position. It's so sad to see the direction our State is taking. It feels more like Nazi Germany each year.
  • Beware, Mr. Hoops
    Mr. Hoops, I hope for your sake that you are a straight, white male. If not, you really need to re-consider inserting yourself into the atmosphere of this state...
    • Interesting
      It would be nice if once in awhile the ICVA would hire a local Indiana native or hire from within. I am sure that Hoops will do a fine job but it would have been nice to see a Hoosier in the position.
    • Income
      Interesting point. 59 employees and 13 million budget in Indy. 40 employees and 12 million budget in SF. Cost of living has a lot to do with difference but why 19 more employees here ?
      I have family that moved from the west coast years ago---they are still adjusting to the weather (lack of sunshine, etc.). SanFran is not your typical coast city (colder/cloudier) but I hope Mr.Hoops is ready for the weather adjustement!! Recommend a full spectrum lamp and regular trips to Florida! Other than weather, Indy is a great town, btw. WELCOME TO INDY!!!
    • So True
      You really are an insider...I know that to be totally true as well.
    • Is He In For Culture Shock
      Wait until Mr. Hoops sees what our legislature is doing in placing a gay marriage ban in our Indiana Constitution. He will find Indiana not as liberal as San Francisco. I hope he can handle the culture shock.
    • irony
      With a name like "Hoops" - what better place to be than in Indiana?!
    • Hope he's an improvement over Welsh
      Although Welsh did a decent job managing ICVA & marketing the city, he brought in his key people who completely didn't fit the culture (and have all left now) and managed the staff with an attitude of fear, greatly eroding morale. Here's hoping Mr. Hoops does an exemplary job while building on the excellent team that's already in place and performing even better since Welsh left. No need to re-invent the wheel when he can maximize & build on the solid foundation of staff & relationships already in place.

      Welcome to the great city of Indy, Mr. Hoops!

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