Proposal on tap
to promote isle

A state law requires
convention center manager
to also market the location

By Tim Ruel

By next month, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is expected to receive a proposal that could spell a short-term answer to the question: Who will market the Hawaii Convention Center?

That job is held by the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, but the center's manager, SMG Corp., is planning to submit a proposal to take on the marketing responsibility, as required by a new state law, according to Mike McCartney, chairman of the authority. Details of the proposal are not yet available.

The HVCB has said it isn't happy about the possibility of losing the $4 million contract, which could cost the firm 15 jobs.

The bureau has marketed the convention center since its opening in 1998, but a state law passed late in this year's legislative session requires that the center be marketed by the firm that manages it. SMG is contracted to manage the convention center through June.

During a Star-Bulletin editorial board meeting yesterday, McCartney and authority board member Ron Wright repeatedly declined to criticize the law, and described it as something that has to happen.

"I would just say it's an unusual law," Wright said, but he added that it could turn out to be a terrific law.

Long-time state official Rex Johnson, who becomes the authority's new executive director next month, acknowledged that he is stepping into the fray.

"I know people will say I'm crazy but they've been saying that for a lot of years," he said.

Johnson mostly deferred to Wright and McCartney for comment on the convention center contract. He allowed that the staff of the authority had said good things about Philadelphia-based SMG.

Johnson said he is still getting ready for his new job, and hasn't even finished negotiating his salary. His main goal for the authority, as a policy-setting agency, is to reach out to people in Hawaii who don't care about tourism, the state's No. 1 industry.

"I don't think everyone buys off on tourism," he said.

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