Convention center

Todd Bertka, the new director of the Waco Convention Center and Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is looking forward to his new role encouraging tourism and attracting major events to the convention center.

As the new director of the Waco Convention Center and the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, Todd Bertka is hoping to make some magic in the Heart of Texas.

“Making magic” was the guest-experience concept at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, where Bertka held one of his several previous positions in tourism, sales and marketing.

Though he just learned the location of the front doors to the Waco Convention Center, he said everyone who passes through them or anywhere in city limits will be treated with care.

“We want visitors for life,” Bertka said. “We don’t just want the one-and-done. We want to present a destination that people put on their radar either annually or every three, four or five years. We want that visitor for life. That’s the trick, and delivering on that expectation when folks come here and have that experience. They couldn’t get it all done in one day, so they need to come back.”

Bertka, who has completed his first two days in the role, comes to the Convention and Visitors Bureau at a time of transformation. The city council this summer approved a new leadership structure there to include a board of directors, and developers are responding to the city’s pursuit of hotels meant to drive convention business.

A board of directors with representatives of the local tourism industry, cultural initiatives, the city manager’s office, McLennan County, the Greater Waco Sports Commission and an at-large member of the public will confer on incentive requests, budgeting, marketing, financial statements, annual goals, booking policy, customer service and food and beverage options.

The structure was recommended by a consulting firm that studied the issue for the city, and the board has met a few times since its formation. Bertka said he worked in a similar structure in his most recent job in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as vice president of convention sales and marketing.

“So far, the commission has been super supportive, are really eager to work together, get around a table, roll sleeves up and look at opportunities and utilize those experiences and decide how best to guide the ship, so to speak, going forward,” Bertka said. “I think they’re really excited to be engaged.”

He has held positions at the Greenville, South Carolina, Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said he did not intend on leaving Virginia Beach, but the Waco position was too good to ignore.

Will Phipps, executive director of the Greater Waco Sports Commission, has yet to meet Bertka but expects to work closely with him to attract athletics events of all types to the city.

“I’m looking forward to getting to meet him,” Phipps said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about him and seen his resume. And I hear he’s a sports guy, so that’s really encouraging. You know how big our sports tourism market is right now in Waco so, looking forward to him getting down here and us partnering up.”

A boom of new hotels will be an asset for Bertka. A downtown market study found that Waco should work with developers who build hotels for conventioneers. Three hotels are headed for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board, which funded the market study, is expected to cover public improvements for an Embassy Suites at 301 S. Second St.

The TIF Zone board was scheduled this week to hear a presentation from the Embassy Suites developers on Thursday and vote on a $4.9 million incentive package, but personal circumstances will delay the vote, said April Hull, program coordinator in the city’s economic development office.

“I am thrilled,” Bertka said. “Meeting and convention business has been my forte. So the value of meeting business and the facilities and the assets to accommodate meeting business is really critical in the sustaining notion of a year-round destination and one that is weatherproof.”

He also said it is important to make downtown a place for residents and tourists by identifying the needs of both groups and balancing interests.

Bertka and his wife of 25 years, Mindy, will soon search for a Waco home. In the meantime, he wants to live downtown and ensure his sons, aged 22, 19 and 18, are ready for the move.

“We are excited to have Todd Bertka in our community,” Assistant City Manager Deidra Emerson said. “Todd brings various levels of experience from other places. Based on our goals and where we want to see ourselves within the tourism industry and visitations to our community, we believe that Todd has the skills necessary to help us get to where we want to be and beyond.”

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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