OKALOOSA ISLAND — Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department Director Jennifer Adams plans to formally introduce the Emerald Coast Convention Center’s new general manager to the County Commission on Tuesday.
The new GM, Melissa Read, has more than 30 years of hospitality industry experience, including jobs in Sandestin, Santa Rosa Beach, Naples and Marco Island.
“We’re very excited that she is with us,” Adams said. “She’s a seasoned professional, and her communications skills seem exemplary.”
Read’s wealth of experience in sales, operations, food and beverage and other hospitality fields makes her a well-rounded GM and team player, Adams said.
“She’s not afraid to dive in, which is what we need so we can start creating a vision of how that convention center is going to operate,” Adams said.
Tuesday’s commission meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. in the County Administration Building in Shalimar.
Read’s first day on the job was May 29. Former convention center General Manager Bill Leaman retired last October, a little more than a month after Adams took over as TDD director. Leaman had served as GM since 2002, the year before the center opened.
Before joining Okaloosa County, she had worked since 2007 at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, first as its senior catering and conference services manager and later as its national sales manager, according to her resume.
Among other jobs, she worked at the Sandestin Resort for several years in the 1990s, served as the food and beverage manager for a restaurant at WaterColor Resort in Santa Rosa Beach from 2001-03 and worked in general manager and director of catering positions for Gulf Bay Hospitality in Marco Island between 2003-06.
Adams and the TDD worked with the Stillwater, Minnesota-based SearchWide executive search firm to find a new GM. About six to eight finalists from a field of about 100 applicants were interviewed in person by county officials.
“We’ve spent about four or five months looking for the right candidate,” Adams said. “It took us longer than I expected to find the right person, but I think we did, and I think it will pay off in the long run.”
Read, 51, is not on the county administrator’s list of county officials who are approved to speak to the media, county spokesman Christopher Saul said.
Read’s starting salary is $85,010. Leaman’s final salary was $79,893.
Adams said Read will oversee about 10 to 15 full-time employees at the convention center. Read’s duties also will include working with Adams to increase business at the facility.
The center has consistently been operating at about 30 percent capacity, which is based on the number of days the facility is booked, Adams said.
“It’s the overall amount of business coming in, whether it’s a trade show, a meeting or an event,” she said. The roughly 30 percent mark is “just unacceptable. Even in the last few weeks, Melissa has been working with our team to look at our (rental) rate structure. We’re doing a market analysis, and looking at how we can be more competitive. I’d like to get to 60 percent capacity within the next year.”
The 70,000-square-foot center has 30,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space and 35,000 square feet of outdoor exhibit space. The outdoor space is under-utilized, Adams said.
“We could host music festivals and food trucks there,” she said. “But it’s hot, with no roof. We’re going to explore what our options are.”
Last summer, before Adams came on board, the TDC discussed a potential major expansion of the center in order for it to host larger and/or concurrent events.
“There was a proposal for a 60,000-square-foot expansion, but I can’t justify expanding it until it’s healthy and growing,” Adams said. “I think in the future it could be an option. Right now, at 30 percent capacity, no.”