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Charlotte gets new booster in chief

By April Bethea and Steve Harrison
abethea@charlotteobserver.com

Tom Murray has been named the new chief executive of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the agency announced Monday.

Murray, who most recently was CEO of Lindblad Expeditions of New York, will begin his new role in Charlotte on Dec. 15. The CRVA board of directors is expected to take a formal vote on the hire on Wednesday.

Murray's salary will be $275,000, plus an $8,000 annual car allowance. The CRVA will establish a bonus program for fiscal 2013, which begins in July, but Murray will not be eligible for a bonus for the rest of the current fiscal year.

CRVA spokeswoman Molly Hedrick said Murray's salary was based on a salary survey, and the salary is roughly 50 to 75 percent of the pay for similar positions nationwide.

Murray succeeds Tim Newman, who will remain at the CRVA but shift to an executive position over sales and marketing. Newman had led the authority since its inception in 2004.

Newman's salary is $240,000, and it's not known whether he will have to take a pay cut. Newman wasn't given a bonus this year, but in the past has received bonuses of $60,000, bringing his total compensation to more than $300,000.

The tourism agency announced in July that it would hire a new chief executive in the wake of intense pressure from city leaders over its management, including incorrect attendance estimates for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the authority's expense account spending. At one point, Mayor Anthony Foxx suggested Newman should no longer run the organization.

One of Murray's challenges will be preparing the city's hospitality industry for next year's Democratic National Convention, the most prestigious meeting the city has hosted.

In addition, he could have to wrestle with budget challenges due in part to the NASCAR Hall of Fame's deficits.

The hall lost $1.4 million last year, contributing to the CRVA's overall loss of $2.4 million.

Murray was picked after a national search led by the search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

According to a biography, Murray has more than 30 years of international hotel and hospitality executive experience. Past jobs include, among others, serving as a chief operating officer for InterContinental Hotels Group and as a senior vice president for Hilton Hotel Corp.

CRVA board Chairman Joe Hallow said Monday that Murray has "a proven track record of strategic leadership and executive management at the highest levels."

"Tom has the ability to marshal all of our region's resources and help assure that we continue to compete and win internationally in the support of our $4 billion tourism and hospitality economy," Hallow said in a news release.

Said Murray: "My goal is to work with the CRVA board and team, local government, business and community leaders to build on the region's strengths and long history of achievement. Our vision is to take CRVA to the next level and assure that the Charlotte region becomes an even stronger magnet for tourism and special events that contribute to the sustained economic growth of the region."

The CRVA, with a budget of $50 million and 200 employees, manages the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bojangles' Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium and the Charlotte Convention Center. The authority also works on marketing and new business development programs.

The authority is funded partly from taxes on hotel and motel rooms, along with a 1 percent tax on prepared food and drinks in Mecklenburg County.

Bethea: 704-358-6013 Harrison: 704-358-5160
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