Gary A. Oster, general manager of the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel and one of the most vocal and active advocates of the city's $1 billion-a-year tourism industry, is leaving Baltimore to become a vice president of the Renaissance chain.
From lobbying for money to lure tourists and conventioneers to lobbying for a football stadium to lure the NFL, Oster has been an influential presence at City Hall, in Annapolis and on several key tourism-related governing boards.
The 41-year-old Ferndale native, a graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High and the University of Baltimore, will end his six-year tenure as general manager Sept. 2, when he moves to Renaissance Hotels and Resorts headquarters in Cleveland. There, he will serve as vice president for sales at Renaissance hotels in the United States, Vancouver, Brazil and the Caribbean.
Oster has consistently won accolades from colleagues and lawmakers for his efforts on behalf of the tourism industry. Within the past year, peers named him Baltimore's Hospitality Professional of the Year and Maryland's Hotelier of the Year.
He played key roles in the push for more money to promote the city, the creation of an academy at Southwestern High to prepare teen-agers for tourism industry careers and Renaissance employees' volunteer efforts to help the impoverished Franklin Square neighborhood.
"I would like to be thought of as a person who motivates, stimulates and, when necessary, agitates," Oster said. "I'm a change agent. I love it, and I embrace it."
As a member of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association board, the Downtown Partnership and the Mayor's Business Advisory Council, among others, Oster stepped forward to sound the alarm over the need to better finance efforts to promote the city and fill its expanding Convention Center.
While most others maintained a low profile, he pointed to dismal advance bookings for the Convention Center, despite the impending completion of a $151 million expansion and renovation. With competitors spending two to three times as much for marketing and promotion, Baltimore simply could not compete, Oster repeatedly said.
In April, lobbying efforts paid off when the General Assembly approved a one-year emergency measure doubling funding for the convention bureau, to about $6 million.
Oster also made a habit of telling city department heads about anything that could detract from the city's image: poor signs, burned-out lights, unsightly weeds.
His successors at the Renaissance and on the BACVA board have yet to be chosen.
"He's going to be very sorely missed; he's been one of the key leaders of the industry, particularly in the city," said Mary Jo McCulloch, executive director of the Maryland Hotel & Motel Association and the Maryland Tourism Council.
"And he did a lot of good work not only for tourism and hospitality and the hotel industry. He had a clear understanding that the more a business could do for the community, the better off the whole community is," she said.
Pub Date: 8/20/96