|By Chris Jones, Las Vegas Review-Journal|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 5, 2004 - Manny Cortez, who for the past two decades helped make Las Vegas one of the world's most-popular travel destinations, said Tuesday he plans to resign from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority effective July 2.
Cortez has been the convention authority's president and chief executive officer since July 1991, guiding the quasi-government agency in both good times and bad. Before accepting his present position, Cortez served on the authority's board of directors for nearly eight years.
"I probably could hang on for a long time, but it's time to move on," Cortez said Tuesday. "The team we've put together is going to run in spite of me, and frankly, the biggest thing I've had to do the last few years is find a way to stay out of the way and let them do their jobs."
Cortez, who turned 65 on April 29, made his decision official on Monday when he sent letters to most members of the organization's 13-member board. In his resignation letter, he referred to the 1978 song "The Gambler."
"It was Kenny Rogers who sang, 'You've got to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em,' " Cortez wrote. "How appropriate in this gaming destination."
Cortez added he has no plans outside of taking a few months off to "work around the house a bit."
Board member and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he was shocked when Cortez personally visited the mayor's office on Monday to inform him of his decision. Goodman said the convention authority has flourished under Cortez's leadership, which he added will be missed.
"The good news is he told me that we could call upon him if we needed his help," Goodman said. "But there comes a time in people's lives when they want to leave at the top, and that's basically what Manny is doing."
When Cortez took over the convention authority, Las Vegas had 73,730 hotel and motel rooms and two major convention centers, including the then-new Sands Exposition and Convention Center, which opened its first phase in late 1990.
Las Vegas hosted approximately 21.3 million visitors in 1991, an early stage of what became an unprecedented era of local growth following The Mirage's 1989 debut. By the time that boom halted in summer 2000, Las Vegas had added multiple world-class resorts, including Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and The Venetian; the city today boasts 129,475 rooms and three of the nation's largest convention centers.
In the period following the terror attacks of September 2001 and the coinciding U.S. economic slowdown, Cortez also oversaw a highly flexible marketing strategy that helped Las Vegas recover more quickly than many competing destinations.
"When we first started doing this we were all gaming-oriented," Cortez said. "We've become an all-around resort destination, which is why Las Vegas has been as successful as it is. We're multifaceted now."
Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of Las Vegas-based advertising agency R&R Partners, praised Cortez's sense of direction regarding Las Vegas' evolution as a resort destination.
"His hallmark has to be that he was a very smart, very decisive, very concrete and very definitive leader," Vassiliadis said. "He's leaving the infrastructure very established ... and the convention authority will now have to take advantage of the groundwork (Cortez) has laid for the future."
Fueled by last year's popular and controversial "Vegas Stories" advertising campaign and an improving travel market, Las Vegas was through February on pace to have a record 37.3 million visitors this year. Local visitor volume is expected to surge even more next year when Steve Wynn opens the $2.4 billion Wynn Las Vegas.
Cortez's work was not limited to Las Vegas, however. Last year, he joined 14 other industry leaders to serve on the newly created U.S. Travel and Tourism Promotion Advisory Board. And last year, Los Angeles-based publication Tradeshow Week called Cortez one of the industry's most-influential leaders.
In February, the convention authority board awarded Cortez a $9,360 annual pay raise and a $23,400 bonus based upon his work during the past fiscal year. He earns a base salary of $243,360 per year, plus a $9,000 annual automobile allowance.
A Las Vegas resident since 1944, Cortez served four terms as a Clark County commissioner beginning in 1976. He has also served on the governing boards of the University Medical Center, the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Police Department's fiscal affairs board. A local elementary school was named in his honor in March 1999.
-----To see more of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.lvrj.com.
(c) 2004, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. MGG,