AUSTIN — If the ability to hit a curveball is required to make the big leagues, Connie Kuehl, Executive Director of the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, proved she has what it takes to play ball Friday at the Omni Hotel at South Park in Austin.
Kuehl went to Austin with a team of hotel professionals she dubbed “Team Killeen” Friday morning to make Killeen-Fort Hood’s first bid to land an American Legion state convention.
Killeen was competing against Corpus Christi and El Paso to land the organization’s 2016 convention.
El Paso won the bid to host the convention in 2016, but in an unexpected turn of events, Killeen was chosen to host the 2017 convention.
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin, the state commander of the Texas Department of the American Legion, was one of about 100 Legionnaires who voted on the final decision.
Kuehl looked momentarily deflated when Corbin approached her moments before the winner was announced and asked her if she could offer the same terms to land the convention in 2017 as she offered to land it in 2016.
Her momentary deflation was immediately replaced with the realization she had just caught a big fish.
“It worked out perfectly,” Kuehl said. “I don’t care what the date is as long as we have it marked on the calendar.”
Kuehl and representatives from the new Marriott Courtyard, the Shilo Inns, Residence Inn-Marriott and civic center employees worked for months to put the bid together.
Although they did not manage to land the 2016 convention, despite the team’s matching camouflage costumes and polished pitch, everybody was satisfied with the results.
“We came to land a convention and we did,” said Tanida Mullen, association sales manager at the civic center. “It feels like a win. It would be hard to argue attracting the convention was anything less than a huge victory for the local economy.”
Kuehl said the four-day convention attracts about 1,000 people annually.
She said the average attendee is likely to put about $200 a day into the local economy.
That means Legionnaires could put approximately $800,000 into the local economy in a four-day period.
“We have 148 rooms, and we have blocked off 125 rooms for this convention,” said Sherry Hoffpauir, senior sales manager for sales and catering at the Marriott Courtyard Killeen. “This convention means $50,000 in revenues for us before figuring in food and beverages.”
When asked why El Paso was chosen for 2016 over Killeen, Corbin answered with one word: politics. “We had the best presentation, but due to some political reasons and IOUs, El Paso won,” Corbin said.
“That’s the way it goes. We still got 2017, and I am tickled to death.”
The Legion’s Convention City Commission Chairman David Olson said the 2016 convention went to El Paso because of the city’s longtime support for the Legion. Olson said El Paso has hosted two conventions in the past, but it has been nearly 20 years since its last one.
“There wasn’t much of a difference (between the El Paso and Killeen bids) as far as I am concerned,” Olson said. “It has been a while for El Paso. They are very good supporters of the American Legion.”
“We look forward to seeing you in 2017,” Olson added.