Blair convention center works on Marriott deal

The Blair County Convention Center Authority and the new owners of the Courtyard by Marriott are moving forward with the signing of an amended land lease that should make the convention center more attractive to larger groups seeking overnight lodging.

As reviewed Wednesday, the updated lease will require the Triple Crown Corp. of Harrisburg, doing business as 2 Convention Center Associates Limited Partnership, to make up to 80 rooms available for convention center guests, with exceptions for Penn State football games and graduation.

The clause in the amended lease is expected to help open the convention center to business it’s been losing for lack of guaranteed on-site lodging. At one point, the Courtyard by Marriott’s practice was to set aside 30 rooms for convention center guests. But facility personnel later advised the Mirror that it was offering 50 to 80 rooms, depending on requested dates.

Because of the Marriott’s change in ownership and the amended lease with the new owners, as signed by partner and President Mark X. DiSanto, the convention center staff is now positioned to market the facility to any group requesting as many as 80 on-site hotel rooms for multi-day events.

For a group in need of more than 80 rooms, the convention center remains ready to work with local off-site lodging properties, authority Chairman Richard Karcher said.

The signing of the amended lease comes at a time when the convention center authority is hiring the Lytle Group of Hollidaysburg to initiate a three-phase leadership development program costing about $29,000.

Authority Vice Chairman Jamie Van Buren and member Donna Gority recommended the program, stretching over eight to nine months, as a way to transition the convention center’s leadership from the retiring Barry Kumpf to Jim Boston, who has been on the job for about six months. As outlined in writing, the program includes an assessment of the convention center’s management, six half-day workshops and one-on-one sessions.

“We find that the highest performing organizations have consistency of both expectations and behaviors in their leaders,” Lytle President and Managing Partner Alan Anderson advised the authority in a letter outlining his company’s proposal. “Once those expectations are articulated in plain and simple language, the whole organization can rally around shared commitments to keep those expectations alive.”

Blair County Com­missioner Ted Beam Jr., liaison to the authority, offered his support for the pursuit.

“It’s a proactive approach,” Beam said. “The worst thing in a transition is to stay stagnant.”

While the cost of Lytle’s services weren’t part of the 2019 budget, Finance Director Steve Koval said it could be accounted for in the budget’s general and administrative expenses.

While the convention center’s revenue lagged in the first four months of the year, business picked up in May and June, Koval said, helping put the facility back in line with budget projections.