Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, already
under pressure from a boycott on conventions following the 2001
police shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, has suffered a
new setback: On May 21, Lisa Haller, the bureau’s president and
CEO, abruptly resigned.
Haller, who cited personal reasons for her move, was two years
into a three-year contract; she was replaced on an interim basis by
Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble executive Alan Welsh.
The resignation is the latest fallout in a city divided by the
shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19, an incident that sparked rioting, a
loss of convention business and a hot-tempered debate on racial
relations that continues to roil the local hospitality
“The civil unrest of 2001 was a wake-up call,” said Ron
Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional
Rights, a New York City-based advocacy group that supports
Cincinatti’s Boycott Council, whose members represent a coalition
of local African-American organizations calling for changes in
policing practices and other measures.
“The council has been largely successful in getting major
artists and conventions not to come to Cincinnati,” Daniels added.
The Boycott Council claims the city has lost $86 million from
groups honoring the protest.
Additionally, gay rights groups have joined the boycott,
citing Cincinnati voters’ 1993 passage of Article XII, an amendment
to the city’s charter that bars the city council from passing any
law meant to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.
The Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau has
tried to handle the furor by reaching out to minority groups and
“There are very likely groups out there that won’t come to
Cincinnati because of the boycott, or because of Article XII,” said
bureau spokesperson Julie Calvert. “We would be naive to think
there aren’t. But of the groups we have contacted, nobody has
refused to work with us due to the boycott.”
On May 13, the GCCVB helped organize a St. Louis meeting
between Cincinnati’s senior African-American official, Vice Mayor
Alicia Reece, and the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners.
The bureau also hosted the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus on a tour
of the city last year.
While the GCCVB is not involved in negotiating a response to
the boycott, it must deal with its impact. According to the bureau,
124,000 room nights were booked locally in 2003, but that number is
expected to plummet to 113,000 for 2004 and 65,000 in 2005.
Organizations that have canceled events in Cincinnati since
2001 include the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the
Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Tuskegee Airmen and
the Union of Black Episcopalians.
“We got a letter from our chapter president there saying the
climate wasn’t good,” said retired U.S. Air Force Major Henry
Sanford, former executive director of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., which
wound up moving its meeting to Atlanta.
Other groups will visit the city despite the boycott. The
18,000-delegate National Baptist Convention is scheduled for 2008,
and the North American Roller Hockey Championship will be held in
Cincinnati this month.
With a population that is 43 percent black, Cincinnati is engaged
in a court-ordered “collaborative agreement” between the city, its
Fraternal Order of Police, the A.C.L.U. and the Black United Front
(a member of the Boycott Council), designed to ease tension between
local police and African-American citizens.
The boycott’s slam to Cincinnati, however, has not kept the
city from undertaking a $160 million convention center expansion,
to be completed in mid-2006. Indeed, the facade of the renovated
Cinergy Center will feature a grid of angled panels that proudly
spell “Cincinnati” in reflective, 50-foot-tall letters.