Convention Center Director Headed Back To Fla.

OCEAN CITY — Just days after approving the $14 million second phase of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center expansion, Ocean City officials learned late last week the facility’s leader is leaving the resort for a similar position in Florida.

Convention Center Director Rick Hamilton told resort officials last week he has accepted an offer to become Tampa, Fla.’s convention center and tourism director. The announcement came three days after the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved the second phase of the major expansion and rehabilitation of the decades-old convention center, including a performing arts auditorium with fixed-tier seating to seat 1,200.

Hamilton was hired in 2009 to replace former Convention Center Director Mike Noah, who held the position for 13 years. Under Hamilton’s watch, the facility is undergoing a significant expansion and rehabilitation, the first phase of which is already underway. Ocean City officials approved the first phase, which includes a 32,000-square-foot expansion of the ballroom and exhibit space, in August 2010 and that phase is expected to be completed next fall.

Hamilton said this week the move is a little bittersweet because there is so much left undone in Ocean City, but the Tampa position is a decidedly significant career arc for the 30-year convention and tourism veteran. In Ocean City, Hamilton oversaw the town’s 160,000-square-foot convention center and local visitor’s bureau. In his new position, Hamilton will take over the 600,000-square-foot Tampa facility, which is preparing to host the 2012 Republican National Convention next summer.

“Every time you make a move like this, you never know how it will turn out,” he said. “I’m very flattered they chose me and this is a wonderful opportunity. It’s a much larger facility in a large metropolitan area. It’s in an environment I’ve always enjoyed.”

For Hamilton, accepting the Tampa position represents a return to his roots of sorts. He came to Ocean City from Orlando where he was involved in a convention contracting service and his resume also includes a stint as the director of the Ocean Center Arena and Convention Center in Daytona, Fla.

For their part, Tampa officials were thrilled to obtain Hamilton’s services on the cusp of one of their most significant events.

“Rick’s wealth of experience will help Tampa continue to be a premiere destination,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a statement this week. “I am confident he will be a great addition to our team moving forward and especially as Tampa hosts the 2012 Republican National Convention.”

During the town’s Economic Development Committee meeting this week, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan informed resort business leaders of Hamilton’s impending departure.

“He’s going to be the director of tourism for Tampa, Fla. and he took a job he couldn’t refuse,” he said. “It’s great opportunity for Rick and we should all be very proud.”

Meanwhile, Ocean City officials took the news of another significant loss in stride. The town is currently in the process of replacing its city manager, city clerk and soon a planning director and now will add convention center director to the growing list.

“The good news is, the convention center has never been in a better place,” Meehan said. “Rick helped us do that and for that we should be thankful. It’s another tough loss, but we have a can-do community and I assure you we’re not going to miss a beat.”

Hamilton said this week the recent political turmoil in Ocean City had little or nothing to do with his decision to part ways with the resort for the Tampa position.

“No, I really didn’t get involved in it,” he said. “This council, just as the previous council, is extremely involved and supportive of what we’re doing and I got along great with both bodies.”

While he will have to hit the ground running in Tampa, Hamilton said he will continue to monitor Ocean City’s convention center expansion from afar.

“The facility is in wonderful condition with phase one of the expansion underway,” he said. “That’s all coming together with the approval for the phase two expansion approved just last week. It’s quite an accomplishment to get phase two approved and it’s nice that it happened during my tenure. That’s something I’m going to take a lot of pride in and I’ll continue to watch its progress.”