by Michael J. Shapiro | October 23, 2019

Following a months-long search, Visit Milwaukee has named Peggy Williams-Smith as its new president and CEO, effective Nov. 18. Milwaukee native Williams-Smith, currently senior vice president with Marcus Hotels & Resorts, will replace outgoing CEO Paul Upchurch, who is resigning to pursue other opportunities. Upchurch previously agreed to stay with the organization until the end of this year to assist with the transition.

Milwaukee is preparing for a banner year in 2020 as a host city, with the Democratic National Convention coming to town in July, followed by other major events such as the USA Triathlon age group national championship and Ryder Cup golf competition. Marcus Hotels & Resorts owns and operates the DNC host hotel, the 729-room Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Williams-Smith, the first woman to lead Visit Milwaukee, is a lifelong resident of the city and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Business Journal named her a "Woman of Influence" in 2017 and to its "40 Under 40" list in 2010.

"Peggy is well known in the Milwaukee community as a leader and as a woman who makes things happen, so she was a natural choice for the role," said Omar Shaikh, a city entrepreneur and chair of the Visit Milwaukee board of directors. "Ultimately, the search committee was impressed with her vision for Visit Milwaukee and her passion for the destination."

Preparations for the upcoming DNC have taken center stage in the city. Marcus Hotels recently announced that Hilton Milwaukee City Center would serve as headquarters hotel, and at the same time appointed a new director of events to lead the way. Another Wisconsin native, Christine Lunz, will oversee all events at the Hilton while joining the team already working on DNC preparations. Lunz, a 16-year veteran of the hospitality industry, was most recently director of catering at the Marriott Milwaukee West.

The Hilton Milwaukee City Center, which opened in 1928 as the Schroeder Hotel, is a building replete with 1920s architectural flourishes and art deco grandeur. It is the largest hotel in the city, both in terms of room count and its 34,000 square feet of meeting space, and is connected via skyway to the Wisconsin Center. The property became a member of the Historic Hotels of America in 2011.

As she transitions from her executive role with the hospitality group running that hotel to one promoting the entire city, Williams-Smith is ready for the challenge. "I could not be more excited to take the reins at Visit Milwaukee as we go headfirst into a very busy and exciting year," she enthused. "It is an honor to be selected to lead this organization into the next decade."