OCEAN CITY — After a nationwide search, Ocean City found its new convention center director in another resort town on the East Coast.
Rick Hamilton was introduced to the public on Monday night at City Hall as the town’s new convention center director, bringing to the table over 30 years of public facility experience, including the last 18 years at the helm of the Daytona Beach Ocean Center in Florida.
“He was the crème that rose to the top early in the search, and honestly, I felt that he was the best candidate throughout,” said City Manager Dennis Dare. “Obviously, Daytona is a regional tourist and convention destination like Ocean City, so he really is a perfect fit for the job.”
The position has been vacant for several months since the resignation of Mike Noah, the town’s former convention center director and tourism director. Dare entertained interest from 72 candidates, hoping to find a seasoned veteran to help guide the Roland E. Powell Convention Center through the next stage of its growth (the looming expansion), and maximizing its current potential.
Deb Turk assumed Noah’s tourism director position, and Dare decided early in the search that the town wanted someone to oversee the building itself, and needed someone with knowledge of every facet of making the convention center an even better asset to the town of Ocean City.
One look at Hamilton’s resume shows that Dare seems to have gotten it right, at least on paper.
Hamilton served as executive director at the Daytona Beach Ocean Center from 1990-2008, before taking an early retirement and consulting and public speaking engagements. He also served as the senior vice president of business development for FM Convention Contractors, which supplies tradeshow decor for conventions throughout the country.
Prior to his time in Daytona, Hamilton managed the Knoxville, Tenn. Civic Auditorium and Coliseum concurrently with the city’s Convention and Exhibition Center as the executive director from 1980-1990.
Hamilton also managed off-site entertainment, which Dare noted as being a great asset for the planned 1,200-seat performing arts center that is to be added to the town’s convention center. Most notably, Hamilton managed the 1982 World Fair, in which he ran three sold-out shows a day for six months.
Dare said that he is regarded amongst those in the industry as a consummate professional and brings a wealth of knowledge to the town of Ocean City.
Hamilton was humble, yet optimistic when addressing the council on Monday night.
“It is my distinct pleasure to have been chosen, and I’m surprised with how fast you acted at hiring me,” said Hamilton. “I look forward to moving to Ocean City, and we will be here ready to work on the first of December. You have a great center and a great city, and I look forward to working with all of the staff in the future.”
Hamilton’s hiring could ease the minds of some opponents of the planned expansion to the convention center, which is sitting in limbo currently awaiting the state Board of Public Works final approval and the final nod from the town’s partner in the expansion, the Maryland Stadium Authority.
“Daytona is famous for the beach, the raceway, bike week and spring break, and they have a large population center as well,” said Dare. “Conventional towns and convention centers are one thing, but tourist towns and their convention centers are another. Rick brings specific experience to the position, and it will allow him to market the center and the town from the first day on the job with the knowledge he gained over 18 years in Daytona.”
Dare also noted that Hamilton’s experience in building a center from the ground up should help ease concerns about the proposed project and its ability to produce results, particularly in the performing arts center.
“It certainly helps as well for him to have the experience of expanding the center from concept to construction. I feel he will bring that to bear on our expansion hopes,” Dare said.
Hamilton was credited for helping to take what was considered a community “white elephant” in the Daytona Beach Convention Center and turning it into a gigantic success, as it now boasts 10,000 seats and 164,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Hamilton’s apparent work ethic and impressive experience may have gotten him the job, but his vast knowledge of new, and expanded centers, and how to market them, coupled with what has been described as a “down home style” of demeanor, might make him the perfect fit for Ocean City, said Dare.
Mayor Rick Meehan welcomed Hamilton on Monday and praised Dare for completing the search.
“Dennis did a great job, and I think that’s pretty evident when you look at Mr. Hamilton’s resume, and he’s a very nice guy that the staff should take to very quickly,” said Meehan. “I think he’s going to be a great asset to the town of Ocean City as we continue to grow in our partnership with tourism and working for the citizens and visitors of the town for many years to come.”