September 13, 2023

New CFA Board Chairman Savarise Aims to Maximize Return on Community’s Investment

The new head of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (CFA) is clear-eyed about both the opportunities and the challenges the organization faces.

His day job — president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association (OHLA) — gives Chairman Joe Savarise a unique perspective. Having served as a board member since 2015, Savarise has had a front-row seat for the CFA’s recent major initiatives — renovating the Greater Columbus Convention Center, developing two new parking garages and expanding the CFA-owned Hilton Columbus Downtown hotel into a 1,000-key property. Those investments made it possible for Columbus to attract major conventions, including the International City/County Managers Association and Professional Convention Management Association in the past year, that would have been out of reach without the Hilton expansion.

Yet, as head of OHLA during the pandemic and through the recovery that is still incomplete, he is keenly aware that business travel remains sluggish and, outside of weekends and special events, hotels have too many empty rooms. “I think the Convention Facilities Authority and the region’s travel economy are both at a turning point,” Savarise said. “Now is the time for us to create a model for even greater opportunities and success in the future.”

Savarise says his priority as board chair will be to ensure central Ohio realizes the greatest benefit possible from the CFA investments. “We’ve built world-class facilities,” he said. “We should ensure appropriate returns for what has been built.” That should include consultation with Franklin County and Columbus political leaders, he added, in recognition of the public funds that help make the CFA’s work possible.

He hopes to work with community workforce-development organizations to build a diverse hospitality workforce in central Ohio. “We have real opportunities for great careers — not just jobs — for people from all backgrounds, with all levels of ability and education,” he said. “We need to work with these diverse populations because they will make the facilities overseen by the CFA even stronger.”

Savarise gives credit to previous CFA leaders for the investments that have, in his words, “transformed the community.” Sally Bloomfield, his immediate predecessor as board chair, served on the CFA board since its creation in 1988. Executive Director Don L. Brown, who oversaw those transformative investments, has announced his intention to retire.

Longtime board members Rhett Ricart and Dennis K. Hartz also have left the board. They and Bloomfield are replaced by attorneys Emmett M. Kelly, a partner with Frost Brown Todd; Michael T. Shannon, of counsel with Underhill & Hodge; and Janica Pierce Tucker, partner in charge with Taft Stettinius & Hollister.

“We owe much to the recently departed board members,” Savarise said. “The CFA is a powerful economic engine for the entire region. I want to continue to build on that success, which is a product of the tremendous leadership and vision that have been put forth over decades.” The new board members, he said, bring “specific experience that will be directly relevant to the priorities and challenges the CFA will be working on in the coming months and years. We are fortunate to have such talented individuals.”

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