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4 vying for reins of city bureau 2 now at BACVA, and 2 others are from California


Two executives at California convention bureaus and two officials at the Baltimore Convention and Visitors Association have emerged as candidates to lead the city's convention bureau.

The search for new leadership comes at a critical juncture for BACVA, which has been dogged by controversy since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ousted its governing board in June in the midst of a major expansion that will double the convention center's size.

BACVA has been without a permanent director since Wayne C. Chappell resigned at the height of the feud over spending and control to head the Kansas City (Mo.) Convention and Visitors Bureau.

All four candidates are veterans of the Baltimore bureau and are familiar names in convention and tourism circles here and elsewhere:

* Carroll Armstrong, the 51-year-old director of marketing for the San Diego Convention Center, began his career in the convention industry in Baltimore, as sales manager for the new Baltimore Convention Center in 1978.

Mr. Armstrong, who grew up in the city and studied at the Peabody Conservatory, left Baltimore in 1981 to work at the Washington, D.C., convention bureau for about four years.

He held a similar job in New Orleans for four years and moved to San Diego eight years ago. Before entering the convention business, he worked as a jazz musician in New York City.

Mr. Armstrong said he holds fond memories of Baltimore and is "flattered" to be a candidate for BACVA director.

"I cut my teeth there; I started my career in the business there, so Baltimore's been good to me," he said.

* Linda Brown has served as executive director of the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau in California since 1994.

Before taking that job, Ms. Brown had served as sales and marketing director for the Washington, D.C., Convention and Visitors Association.

She worked as sales and marketing director for BACVA for 11 years, and held positions with the San Antonia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Ms. Brown, who was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment, also serves on the board of directors of the International Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus.

* Dale D. Garvin, acting executive director of BACVA, had served the association's governing board while working as general manager of the Hyatt Regency Baltimore for 2 1/2 years before taking on his current job in July.

Mr. Garvin, 44, worked 17 years for Hyatt, a decade of that as general manager of hotels including those in New York City and Lexington, Ky. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Massachusetts and worked for a time as a carpenter after graduating.

He said he has learned a great deal about Baltimore's $1 billion-a-year convention and tourism industry as Hyatt general manager and as a BACVA board member.

"My two years as general manager of a prominent hotel gave me incredible exposure to the hospitality marketplace that Baltimore has created," Mr. Garvin said. "My presence as a board member on the BACVA board for 2 1/2 years has given me great insight not only into the organization but also to the history and the competition we face on a daily basis."

If selected director, Mr. Garvin said, he would propose new funding sources to make BACVA more competitive with other, better-financed convention bureaus. But he declined to provide specifics.

* Kathleen Ratcliffe, BACVA's director of convention marketing, started with the bureau in 1991 and leads its convention sales efforts.

Before coming to BACVA, Ms. Ratcliffe, 37, worked as marketing director for a Radisson Hotel in Denver for 1 1/2 years; as national sales director for conventions in St. Louis and as director of the convention bureau in Carbondale, Ill.

Ms. Ratcliffe, who declined to comment yesterday on her candidacy, has developed a national reputation in the convention industry.

She was elected president of the prestigious, 13,000-member Meeting Professionals International, representing meeting planners and convention sales representatives in 44 countries.

BACVA's board turned the job over to a search firm after a three-month process that started with members sorting through applicants' resumes, said Roslyn Smith, a Westinghouse Corp. personnel executive who heads the search committee of the restructured BACVA board.

The assignment went to Jensen, Oldoni & Cooper, a firm that has experience in the convention and tourism business. The company will be paid $18,000 plus expenses, Ms. Smith said.

It has received about three dozen unsolicited applications, and is to narrow the field, before presenting candidates to the BACVA board.

The board, in turn, will make recommendations to Mr. Schmoke, who has final say.

BACVA hopes to have a new director on the job by January.

"With the expansion coming along, we really have to move fast and forward," Ms. Smith said. "Time lost is money lost to the [convention] center and to the city and to the state."

While formal interviews have not started, Mr. Schmoke has met informally with Mr. Armstrong. He is the only African-American among those considered major candidates, sources said.

The Schmoke administration has expressed frustration over the dearth of black conventions and meetings coming to Baltimore, leading some to suggest that he would prefer a black chief of the convention bureau.

But, should the mayor pass over Ms. Ratcliffe, sources said, she would be likely to leave the city, possibly taking with her members of a highly regarded sales staff and the considerable institutional memory and knowledge of the product -- Baltimore.

Efforts to reach Mayor Schmoke and William Jews, acting chairman of the new BACVA board, were unsuccessful yesterday.

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