New Orleans and Houston Center’s Long-time Leaders Both Set to Retire

April 17, 2017

Two long-time facility leaders – the Houston George R. Brown Convention Center’s David Osterhout and the New Orleans Ernest N. Moral Convention Center’s Robert Johnson – both are set to retire.

Osterhout, known universally as simply Dave O, is turning in his keys after nearly three decades as the facility manager at the George R. Brown CC.

Osterhout, 69, retires on April 28 with a celebration joined by co-workers, clients, partners and many other friends.

His first order of business in the new life of leisure will be to head to his lake house north of Houston to gather with family, including his daughters and grandchildren.

“Dave O is irreplaceable. Someone will succeed him but nobody will replace him,” said Luther Villagomez, Houston First’s COO, who opened the GRB in 1987 and has worked side-by- side with Osterhout since 1989.

“There is not one square inch, not one aspect of operation, in this convention center that Dave is not intimately familiar with,” Villagomez said. “He has been the driving force in every capital project over the years and his input has been critical to the success of new construction projects and operational improvements.

Villagomez added, “Dave is widely respected by colleagues in the industry, appreciated by our clients and admired by his co-workers. We will miss him.”

Osterhout’s tenure in the George R. Brown started when the downtown convention center had four exhibit halls totaling just 450,000 square feet.

Today, the building has 1.8 million sq. ft. under roof, including 770,000 sq. ft. in seven exhibit halls.

He was integral in both the Phase II expansion in 2004 and the most recent Phase III renovation. Being a key liaison with the George R. Brown’s construction partners as well as administering in-house partner contracts, Osterhout’s keen insight and operational knowledge was unparalleled.

Osterhout also was a mastermind of operational efficiency. Through his guidance, the George R. Brown earned its original LEED certification in 2011, under the requirements set for existing buildings. To retain that status in 2016, the George R.

Brown had to meet recertification criteria for energy savings, CO2 emissions, waste recycling and indoor environmental quality.

Not only did Dave O. manage every aspect of the GRB’s operation, but he also has touched countless events. He was a warehouse of knowledge about the behind-the- scenes workings of large-scale events and kept their many moving parts on track.

He was essential to the success of the massive Super Bowl NFL Experience in 2004 and 2017, Texaco Grand Prix, American Public Transportation Expo, and International Deli Dairy Bakery, just to name a few events.

Dave O. is a proud graduate of Purdue University, holding an associate degree in food service technology & design and a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management. He was a general’s aide in the U.S. Army before going to work for Aramark (previously known as ARA Services). His tenure at Aramark started at the Indianapolis Convention Center in 1973 as the assistant manager of food service and ended in 1983 as the general manager of food service at the Summit/Compaq Center. He had stops along the way at Houston’s Astroworld, Astrohall, Astro Arena, San Francisco’s Cow Palace Arena and London’s Wembley Stadium complex, where he was the opening general manager.

Johnson has led the nation’s 6th largest convention and exhibition hall through numerous renovations and improvements, including the addition of the $52 million Great Hall and Julia Street entry plaza.

Most recently, Johnson has been the primary visionary and driver behind the facility’s planned renaissance of Convention Center Boulevard to include a more pedestrian-friendly linear park, as well as the development of a series of mixed use hotel, residential, entertainment and hospitality and retail complexes onto upriver acreage owned by and adjacent to the Convention Center.

These more than $1 billion in improvements and investments are expected to be game changers in New Orleans’ effort to stay competitive in the meetings and convention industry.

“Bob Johnson has been instrumental in every major advancement undertaken by the Convention Center over the past 10 years,” said Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Chair Melvin Rodrigue.  “The entire state’s hospitality industry is deeply indebted to Bob for his leadership and tenacity in helping to make our Convention Center one of the most utilized and recognized in the country.”

Among Johnson’s notable accomplishments are his leadership of the Convention Center’s recovery and ultimately, the City’s hospitality industry’s recovery following the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.  

The Center’s occupancy has returned to pre-Katrina levels and the City’s recently announced record number of visitors reflects that level of business improvement.  Johnson has led several industry- pioneering initiatives including Center owned and produced events, a widely recognized customer excellence program and owning its own UPS Store franchise among others.

“I’ve had the most enriching career a venue manager could want through my early years at the Dome and culminating with my time at the Convention Center.  Through my work, I’ve traveled around the globe but promoting New Orleans has always been my passion,” Johnson said.  “I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished during my tenure at the Center, which is blessed with the most dedicated staff of any venue.”

Johnson’s venue management career spanned 46 years beginning in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he graduated from Wake Forest University.

Prior to joining the Convention Center staff, Johnson opened UNO’s Lakefront Arena which became recognized nationally as a leading concert venue of its size. 

He had a distinguished career with global facilities management company SMG, including a 10 year stint in New Orleans as the General Manager of the Superdome where he oversaw the hosting of NCAA Final Four Tournaments, Super Bowls, a Republican National Convention and the Papal visit.

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