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San Diego Convention Center Eliminates GM Position, Names Tom Mazzocco COO

Danica Tormohlen
, Editor-at-Large
July 1, 2012
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By Danica Tormohlen, contributing editor

San Diego, CA – The San Diego Convention Center Corp. (SDCCC), which manages and operates the San Diego Convention Center (SDCC), has eliminated the position of general manager, held by Brad Gessner for more than six years, and named Tom Mazzocco chief operating officer. Mazzocco, who has been with the SDCCC for more than 18 years, had been promoted from vice president of human resources/labor relations to executive vice president in March. Gessner could not be reached for comment.

The move follows a string of changes at the organization in recent months, after the San Diego City Council approved the transfer of marketing authority for the center to the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau in March. As a result, the SDCCC began transitioning its citywide sales and marketing efforts to the bureau July 1.

After more than 20 years of service to the organization, Carol Wallace, president and CEO of the SDCCC, sent a letter in April to the nine-member board of directors saying her future role at the corporation “is the subject of further discussion.” Since then, Wallace has said that she will stay on and assist with the transition, which she expects to be complete by June 30, 2013. In addition, Steven Johnson, vice president for public affairs, left the SDCCC on June 29. Johnson told Trade Show Executive there are more changes to be announced.

In April, the city's hoteliers voted to approved a new room tax to help fund a planned $520 million expansion of the center, but the California Coastal Commission must also approve the project before it can move forward.

Under the approved tax changes that could take effect as early as January 2013, guests at hotels will pay an additional 1% to 3%, depending on their proximity to the convention center. Those closest to the convention center will pay an additional 3% on their room bills. The hotel tax is expected to generate roughly $35 million a year to pay off 30-year bonds. In May, the city filed a lawsuit to validate that it can legally create a financing district that allows hotel owners to vote in the tax increase as opposed to a public vote. Organized labor in San Diego has opposed the tax increase and has filed two lawsuits challenging it.

According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders helped orchestrate a change in marketing for the center after the hotel industry would not support the new tax without having more control over the center’s bookings. The Convention & Visitors Bureau is governed by a 30-member board, half of whom are representatives from local hotels.

Currently, the SDCC is the 22nd largest convention center in the nation, with 615,701 sf of prime exhibit space and 204,114 sf of meeting space, according to the World’s Top Convention Centers 2012 directory, published this month by Trade Show Executive. In fiscal year 2011, the SDCC hosted 221 events that generated $1.4 billion in regional economic impact and $20.6 million in hotel room and sales tax revenues, according to the SDCCC.

Before joining the SDCCC in 2006, Gessner served as general manager of WestWorld of Scottsdale, a 200-acre equestrian and special event complex in Arizona, for nearly five years. He also served as deputy general manager of the Del Mar Fairground & Racetrack in California. Gessner began his career in the industry at the SDCCC in 1988.

Mazzocco joined the SDCCC in 1994. Previously, he was a self-employed human resources consultant and the owner of an environmental equipment distribution company. Mazzocco also worked at Sundt Corp., a construction company headquartered in Tucson, AZ, where he served in a variety of corporate management and human resources positions beginning in 1972.

Reach Carol Wallace at (619) 525-5000 or carol.wallace@visitsandiego.com; Joe Mazzocco at (619) 525-5000 or tom.mazzocco@visitsandiego.com

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