City prepares for convention center

HARLINGEN — The job of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau is to attract tourism to town.

Now, the $14.8 million convention center is expected to become the city’s latest draw.

But there is still much work to do.

Officials are planning to identify conventions, draft a marketing plan and search for a new director to lead the CVB, City Manager Dan Serna said yesterday.

Serna said he expects construction of the 43,000-square-foot convention center to be complete by about mid 2018.

That gives the city only about a year to prepare — and many conventions are planned in advance of that.

The CVB will help San Antonio-based developer BC Lynd Hospitality book conventions, Serna said.

The city is trying to determine whether it can use hotel occupancy tax revenue to help promote the convention center, said Ruthie Ewers, a retired marketing company owner who is helping the CVB.

Ewers is helping the CVB draft a new marketing plan to help the city draw more tourists to town.

“How are we going to market Harlingen to bring visitors here?” Ewers asked.

Ewers said the marketing plan might feature area attractions such as the Iwo Jima Monument and downtown murals.

Meanwhile, the city is still searching for a replacement for former CVB Executive Director Melissa Landin, who was fired nearly two months ago.

As part of an agreement, Serna said, the city will fund construction of the convention center while BC Lynd will operate it and book conventions.

“All bookings will go through the operator, which is the developer, and we’ll be complementing what they do,” Serna said. “If we can identify a convention, we’re going to work with them to see they get booked and have an outstanding event in our area.”

Serna said the CVB is working to identify conventions the city could attract to the convention center.

The city will try to draw such conventions as those centered on medicine, education, military and agriculture, Serna said.

He said a national convention centered on entertainment already is interested in booking the convention center.

“There’s interest in our convention center,” Serna said. “We’re centrally-located. It’s a good opportunity for us. I think we’re going to have a lot of interest in our convention center.”

The search continues for a CVB director after Serna fired Landin in February.

“We want experience,” Ewers said.

The job requires a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing or communications or five years of related experience or training.

Requirements include knowledge of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand management and business operations, preferably with non-profit organizations, hotels, tourism-related industries and colleges and universities.

Salary depends on qualifications.

Landin, who was fired Feb. 17, had served as the city’s CVB director and public information officer for about a year.

In January 2016, she was hired as the city’s public information officer at a salary of $47,500.

About a month later, she took the job of CVB director, boosting her salary to $61,500.