|By Chris Jones, Las Vegas Review-Journal|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 21, 2004 - Rossi Ralenkotter on Thursday described Las Vegas as a magical place. And in just a few weeks, the veteran tourism guru will get his long-awaited chance to ensure this city's more than 36 million annual visitors won't disappear anytime soon.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board on Thursday officially named Ralenkotter as the organization's next president and chief executive officer once current boss Manny Cortez steps down July 2.
Ralenkotter has spent the past 31 years promoting Las Vegas travel for the authority, including his current position as executive vice president. He called his pending promotion the realization of a lifelong dream.
"To be able to market my hometown has always been a great thrill for me," Ralenkotter said in an interview following the board meeting. "My father (Donald) worked in the gaming industry all of his life so I was exposed to that side of the city for years.
"There were some discussions about positions (in other cities) that would have been challenging and rewarding, but I believe in Las Vegas and what I'm selling."
Ralenkotter praised Cortez's legacy, which includes promoting the city through a period of unprecedented growth in the 1990s as well as during difficult periods such as the two Iraqi wars and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He hopes to expand upon his predecessor's past successes while forging a new direction that will carry Las Vegas through the next five to 10 years.
Over the summer, Ralenkotter said he plans to meet at length with his staff to further develop ideas for a vision statement to be presented to the board next fall.
That plan will likely include efforts to improve brand awareness among potential travelers, particularly with more than 8,500 hotel rooms set to open in the next 15 months. Ralenkotter also hopes to evaluate the authority's financial strategy and evaluate potential improvements to the Las Vegas Convention Center and Cashman Center.
Ralenkotter said he'll likely wait at least a year before he names a new executive vice president, thereby allowing time to study both current employees and potential outside hires. In the meantime, he wants to expand his knowledge of the entire convention authority operation after spending the bulk of his tenure dealing largely with marketing issues.
Ralenkotter will receive a base salary of $225,000 during his first year as president/CEO. That's about $28,000 more per year than he now earns, though still below Cortez's final base salary of $243,360. Ralenkotter will also receive a $9,000 annual automobile allowance and is eligible for year-end performance bonuses.
"I think we're very lucky to have two fellows who make a lot of money but are awfully dedicated to making sure Las Vegas is on top of the heap in terms of entertainment destinations," Las Vegas Mayor and board member Oscar Goodman said of the executives' salaries.
Henderson Mayor and board member Jim Gibson, who helped set the paychecks of both Ralenkotter and Cortez through his role on the authority's compensation committee, said the proposed $225,000 is merited because the Las Vegas bureau includes both marketing and facilities management responsibilities.
Most major U.S. trade show markets divide those duties between separate divisions.
"This job has to be worth $225,000, in our view," said Gibson, who took part in the meeting via teleconference.
In other business Thursday, the convention authority board:
--Officially accepted Cortez's resignation and agreed to make an approximately $66,058 contribution to the longtime executive's state retirement account. That gift would allow the outgoing boss to collect an annual pension of about $219,000, or 90 percent of the salary earned during his highest-paying 36-month period as a state employee.
Cortez will have spent 35 years and two months working for various state agencies when he retires effective July 2.
--Approved the organization's budget for its fiscal 2005 beginning July 1. The convention authority plans to spend $196.7 million during the 12-month period, up 4 percent from the current fiscal year. Thanks largely to an expected gain in room tax collections, revenue is projected to increase by 6 percent to nearly $190.4 million.
Advertising is by far the largest projected expense category with a 2005 budget of $66.7 million, up 3 percent from the prior year.
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(c) 2004, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.