Tom Noonan, the outgoing CEO of Visit Baltimore, did not lead Baltimore's tourism and convention agency at an easy time.
He started in Baltimore in 2007, about a year before the housing and financial crisis would wreak havoc on the economy. He announced his departure for a similar post in Austin, Texas, last week, roughly a year after riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray's from injuries sustained in police custody.
Noonan said he is proud of the organization's accomplishments: increased hotel bookings through a focus on sales and citywide conventions; major festivals such as Sailabration and the Star-Spangled Spectacular; partnerships with other cities; and the response to last year's unrest.
"I told the staff then, and I still believe it today: This is one of those moments that 10 years from now … we'll look back and that will be one of the things in my career I'm proudest of," said Noonan, who leads a team of roughly 60 people.
Noonan leaves some business on the table. For years, he has called on the city and state to act on proposals to overhaul the Baltimore Convention Center and the Royal Farms Arena.
"I worry about the future 10 years from now if we have the same arena and the same convention center," he said, adding he is hopeful that the city and state will act on those proposals in the next few years.
"It's been a timing issue more than anything," he said.
Noonan grew up in Minnesota as one of 11 siblings in what he called a "Brady Bunch"-like family, where dinnertime brought nearly as many people to the table as a board meeting. He started working in tourism straight out of college at the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I love going in, working a room, making friends," he said. "I guess that's why I'm suited for the hospitality tourism industry."
A search firm approached him a few months ago about the opening in Austin. The move will be a homecoming of sorts — a relocation to his wife's home state and the state where he spent the first 18 years of his career.