When Pat Kelly arrived in Ottawa to become GM of the Westin Hotel in 1988, the main topic of conversation in the local tourism industry was the need for a larger downtown convention centre.
Nearly two decades later, Mr. Kelly took over as CEO of what was then known as the Congress Centre, vowing to make that goal a reality. He did just that, overseeing the building of a new, larger Ottawa Convention Centre on the former Congress Centre site.
Now, after nearly eight years at the helm of the recently rechristened Shaw Centre, Mr. Kelly is moving on.
The Shaw Centre’s board of directors announced on Friday that Mr. Kelly will step down as the facility’s president and CEO effective March 31.
Board chair Marc Seaman praised Mr. Kelly’s “tenacity and vision” in spearheading the construction of the new convention centre, a project that had been talked about for years but finally came to fruition under his leadership. When the Ottawa Convention Centre opened in April 2011, the 192,000-square-foot facility nearly tripled the meeting space offered in the old Congress Centre.
Mr. Kelly’s ability to push the project through to completion will be his lasting legacy, Mr. Seaman said.
“Pat was instrumental in getting that built,” he said.
Mr. Kelly managed Westin and Fairmont hotels in locations around the world before serving as the dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism at Algonquin College. In a news release issued on Friday, he thanked the Shaw Centre’s board for hiring him in 2007, calling the job of CEO an “extraordinary opportunity.”
Under Mr. Kelly’s guidance, the Shaw Centre boosted its annual visitor tally to more than 300,000 and last year was named runner-up as the world’s best convention centre by the International Association of Convention Centres.
As CEO, Mr. Kelly also helped boost annual revenues, which jumped from less than $10 million at the Congress Centre before his arrival to more than $16 million at the new facility in fiscal 2012-13. In October, the convention centre inked a 10-year naming rights deal with Calgary-based Shaw Communications.
“I am proud of what our team has accomplished during the past several years, and I’m excited with the future growth prospects for the centre and Ottawa as a national and global convention destination,” Mr. Kelly said in the release.
He was unavailable for further comment on Friday afternoon.
Ottawa Tourism president Noel Buckley called Mr. Kelly a "consummate tourism professional" and said his contributions to the local industry will be missed.
"He's worked his entire life in this industry," Mr. Buckley said, noting Mr. Kelly managed the "two most significant" hotels in the region during his career, the Westin and later the Chateau Laurier.
But he agreed Mr. Kelly will be remembered most for his involvement with the Shaw Centre, adding he believes it is the premier convention centre in the country.
"It's a beautiful legacy to have," Mr. Buckley said. "It's a spectacular facility. I think it's changed the (tourism) landscape in Ottawa."
Mr. Seaman, who said Mr. Kelly and the board mutually agreed to his departure, said a five-person search committee to replace him will be co-chaired by board members David Scott and Mona Fortier. The committee plans to have a new CEO in place by the end of March.
Mr. Seaman said the next CEO will be “more focused on national and international marketing” in an effort to attract more clients from the United States and Europe.
The committee plans to meet with various members of the city’s tourism industry to get their input on the kind of person they’d like to see in the position.
“I think the pool is pretty open,” Mr. Seaman said.