January 03, 2007
Gerard J. "Jordy" Tollett, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, has resigned, a month before his contract with the city expires. The GHCVB executive committee has accepted Tollett's offer to consult for the CVB until 2008, to help with the transition once a new CEO is selected. Back in November, the CVB's executive committee began a national search for a new CEO, following a request by Mayor Bill White to find the most qualified candidate for the position; the committee then asked Tollett to reapply for his job. The shakeup began last July, after an expose on Houston's KPRC (Channel 2) showed Tollett apparently spending extended lunch hours in a bar. Tollett has been the head of the CVB since 1997 and has been working to bring visitors and conventions to the city in some capacity for about 35 years. As for the next bureau president, the executive committee is awaiting a list of candidates to be submitted by an executive search firm.

The 216-room Doubletree Grand Key Resort in Key West, Fla., is closed until March 1 following the Dec. 28 death of a guest from carbon-monoxide poisoning. According to the Miami Herald, hotel officials said the deadly fumes emanated from the hotel's fourth-floor boiler room, which was next door to the room in which the guest was staying. Several other people were taken to the hospital, including the hotel's general manager, who administered CPR to victims. State legislators now are calling for carbon-monoxide detectors to be placed in all Florida hotel rooms.

Pinnacle Entertainment plans a $145 million renovation and expansion of its Boomtown New Orleans in Harvey, La. The property, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, currently consists of a riverboat casino; renovations will add a 200-room hotel, a spa, a nightclub, a pool, an Asian-themed restaurant and considerable meeting space. Ground will be broken soon, with completion expected in early 2008.

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation denied an operating certificate to San Francisco-based startup airline Virgin America, saying the airline failed to meet the citizenship test for U.S. carrier status. (To be certified as a U.S. airline, a carrier must prove that the president, two-thirds of the board of directors and a minimum of 75 percent of the voting interest is owned or controlled by U.S. citizens.) "The Department tentatively concludes that Virgin America's close relationship with the U.K.-based Virgin Group indicates that the carrier is not under the actual control of U.S. citizens," said a DOT statement. The airline said in a written response that it still is committed to "getting our wings" and promised to respond to the ruling on Jan. 10.

Indianapolis officials have chosen a proposed $260 million JW Marriott hotel with up to 1,000 guest rooms as the headquarters property for the expanding Indiana Convention Center. The winning design also calls for the construction of three adjacent Marriott-brand hotels on the five-acre site, to be developed independently: a Fairfield Inn, a Springhill Suites and a Renaissance Hotel. All four properties will be connected to the convention center via skywalks. The JW Marriott is expected to open by March 2010, when Indianapolis is scheduled to host the NCAA Men's Final Four basketball tournament. A seven-member committee appointed by Mayor Bart Peterson selected the Marriott bid over a proposal for a 1,000-room InterContinental hotel.

A proposal to build a 235-room W Hotel in Boston's downtown theater district was approved in late December by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Plans also call for 135 condominium units and 12,000 square feet of space for spa, restaurant and retail use. In 2001, the authority approved a proposal for a Loews hotel for the site, but the project was never realized.

Greg Saunders, chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, will leave his post in February, before the end of his one-year term, to become senior vice president of the 2,998-room Grand Hyatt Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino, currently under construction. John Patronski, executive vice president of industry development for GES Exposition Services, will serve as interim chairman until he is officially sworn in as chairman in March. In other Chicago news, Leticia Peralta Davis, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns and manages McCormick Place and Navy Pier, has resigned, effective yesterday. An MPEA spokesperson confirmed Davis' departure, but would not elaborate on the circumstances. Juan A. Ochoa, who had been serving as president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was named as Davis’ replacement.