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Possible Ouster Of RSCVA Chief

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There’s a potential shake-up at the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority—or RSCVA. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray reports that a special board meeting has been called for Friday to discuss possible termination of the organization’s President and CEO Chris Baum. 

Baum joined the RSCVA back in 2012.  He heads up an organization tasked with drumming up business and tourism to the region by booking more conventions and special events. The discussion of Baum's potential exit comes just a few months after Nevada lawmakers passed SB 480 slashing the RSCVA board from thirteen members down to nine.

“I feel that the new size of a nine-member board is much more efficient in its operation,” chairman of the RSCVA board Bob Lucey says. Lucey is also a Washoe County Commissioner. Prior to the change, several board members, including Mayor Hillary Schieve, had been publicly critical about its bloated size and ineffectiveness for boosting tourism.

Lucey declined to comment on Baum’s possible termination. He says the board remains focused on driving more tourism to the area, but the biggest obstacle is the region’s pervasive image of being a run-down gambling town.

“That is the perception that we’re constantly fighting through, every entity: Washoe County Commission, Reno City Council, Sparks City Council, all the entities, is to change that perception,” Lucey says.

Brian Bonnenfant is a researcher with UNR’s Center for Regional Studies, which examines the economic impact of tourism in the region.

“What more do we need to draw people into Reno? We’re not talking Lake Tahoe or the region but downtown Reno or downtown Sparks—I think this is the crux of the issue—if we want more tourism," Bonnefant says. 

The RSCVA has contracted his organization to study the demographics of special events in the region.

“I think the secret’s out that the next wave of a large demographic cohort is the millennials," Bonnefant says. "I think the focus of special events, retail, arts and recreation are catering to that new demographic cohort.”

Mayor Hillary Schieve  says a sound  marketing strategy will be vital to attract that younger generation in the long run.

“I think we’re looking to market the Reno-Tahoe area in a much bigger, broader perspective and I think that looking at millennials is going to be extremely important for the next generation, certainly for our community and for tourism,” Schieve says.

But for now, Schieve says tighter fiscal management is critical. The RSCVA is funded by hotel room taxes and money generated by properties it manages.

“We have the ballroom that sits empty quite a bit. We’ve got the bowling stadium that’s in need of repairs," Schieve says. "We have to be really wise about every dollar right now. I certainly will be looking at all the operations and at labor costs.”

The RSCVA also owns and operates several other meeting and convention facilities like the Reno-Sparks Convention Center and the Livestock Events Center.

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RSCVA President and CEO Chris Baum. Photo from RSCVA website.

A spokesman for the RSCVA says staff will not be commenting on Baum’s potential termination, which will be discussed at the special board meeting on Friday. Less than a year ago, though, the RSCVA board approved an additional three-year contract for Baum with an annual salary of more than $230 thousand. Mayor Schieve was the only dissenting vote.