Don Welsh, the top executive at the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association since 2008, is leaving the city to take the job as CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, the ICVA announced Monday night.
“The entire Indianapolis hospitality and convention industry is extremely appreciative of Don’s commitment and enthusiasm over the last two and a half years,” said ICVA Board Chairman Michael Browning in a prepared statement. “As with past ICVA leaders, Don has been instrumental in keeping Indianapolis’ strategic growth moving forward and raising the profile of the city.”
The ICVA said a search for a new CEO will be conducted by the board starting almost immediately.
ICVA is the city’s official sales and marketing organization responsible for driving tourism and booking conventions. The organization has had only four CEOs since 1978, including Welsh.
Welsh, 54, was CEO of the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau before arriving in Indianapolis in August 2008 to replace retiring ICVA chief Bob Bedell.
During Welsh’s tenure, the city opened Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis International Airport’s new Weir Cook terminal. In the first quarter of 2011, the city will open the expansion of the Indiana Convention Center and finish the JW Marriott Indianapolis.
“With Indianapolis’ strong tourism product, including the expanding convention center and the coup of hosting the  Super Bowl, we know this position will be extremely sought-after by numerous top-level executives both in Indianapolis and across the country,” Browning said.
When the $275 million expanded Indiana Convention Center opens Jan. 20, it will propel the facility from the 32nd to the 16th largest convention center in the U.S., with 749,000 square feet of exhibit space.
“I am extremely thankful for my time in Indianapolis; this is truly a first-class destination poised for continued growth,” said Welsh in prepared statement. “I am confident Indianapolis will continue to attract new conventions and leisure visitors from around the globe.”
Chicago's McCormick Place, with 2.7 million square feet of meeting space, is the largest convention center in the nation.
Welsh will replace Tim Roby, who resigned after four years in the job to join Starwood Hotels & Resorts as senior vice president of sales for North America.