CEO of Midlands tourism agency resigns

jwilkinson@thestate.comDecember 17, 2013 

Ric Luber, who has helmed the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism since 2007, has resigned.

Bill Ellen, owner of the Clarion Hotel on Gervais Street in Columbia, resigned as the authority’s chairman and will be interim president and chief executive, according to a news release. Board vice chairman John Hardee was named chairman of the authority’s board of directors.

No reason was given for the resignation of Luber, who could not be reached for comment.

But three sources familiar with the situation said the resignation was the result of differences between Luber and the authority’s board over management of the agency’s budget, including raises given to authority employees earlier this year.

“The board of directors wants to thank Ric for his tireless service to the organization, as well as the entire Columbia region,” the authority said in its press release. “Because of his vision and leadership, (the) Midlands Authority, including Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, Columbia Regional Sports Council and Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, has become a major economic driver for the community and will continue to be for many years to come.

“The board wishes Ric and his wife, Rita, well in their future endeavors.”

The statement added Ellen, the authority’s acting CEO and former chairman, “has extensive business and hospitality experience, and will offer skilled guidance during this transition.”

The authority recently issued a report saying that, in part through its efforts, the Midlands was growing as a tourist and convention destination.

Fewer people attended events at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in fiscal year 2012-2013 than in the four previous years, but those who visited stayed longer in the Columbia area and spent more money in Richland and Lexington counties, the authority said.

Also, the number of events booked in venues across Richland and Lexington counties by the Midlands Authority for Convention, Sports and Tourism hit a five-year high of 563 in 2012-2013.

The number of people attending events booked by the authority at venues other than the Convention Center also rose to 121,000 from 80,000 in 2008-2009.

Before arriving in Columbia, Luber, a 66-year-old Ohio lawyer, was the director of convention and visitors bureaus in Austin, Texas, Rochester, N.Y. and Columbus, Ohio. At the time that he was hired, Luber said he hoped to make Columbia a "world-class" convention and tourist destination, marketing the city’s attractions, history, universities and rivers.

Luber succeeded Steve Camp, who was the authority’s CEO for five years and oversaw the Convention Center’s construction. However, Luber often had expressed frustration at what he saw as a lack of funding for the region’s dominant marketer for conventions and tourism.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a statement, “We certainly thank Mr. Luber for his years of service and have every confidence that the board will hire a new CEO (who) will continue to grow the CVB as an integral part of our economic-development infrastructure.”

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495.

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