When John Cohen took over in April as executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, he had some big shoes to fill. Not literally; previous director Bobbie Patterson is petite. But Patterson, credited with bringing the Iron Man triathlon and the Special Olympics Winter Games to the City of Trees, held formidable sway for more than three decades.
Next week, Boise Weekly sits down with Cohen to talk about his new challenge, but we first spoke to Patterson as she was packing up her office in BCVB's old digs at the Owyhee Plaza.
When did you decide to retire?
I wish I could tell you that I had a vision that flashed in my mind, but I think it was more of a process. Last July, I was diagnosed with lung cancer; a total shock.
Was your treatment through the Mountain States Tumor Institute?
The chemo was. My radiation was through an absolute angel of a doctor: Dr. John Gamboa. He has been--in encouragement and information--an absolute blessing. I was very lucky. I didn't miss work or get really sick.
But was that the turning point for you?
Running BCVB for the last 30 years has been a separate life. I have my husband, kids, grandkids and great-grandkids but I've had this amazing experience of running the bureau at an international level. I can't possibly imagine another job where I would have friends all over the world.
May I ask how old you are?
You can ask, but I'm not going to tell you, and the only reason is that there is an age bias.
How would you best describe the state of BCVB as you step away?
Extremely changed. There are just a handful of people at the bureau, but if everybody is doing their job, there shouldn't be any decrease in promotion of the city, because the Boise Centre now has its own sales staff. Is that the best arrangement? I would argue that it's not.
When we talk to the general public, who don't understand the inner machinations of BCVB and the Greater Boise Auditorium District, which oversee the Boise Centre, and that there are different teams of people marketing Boise, and that sometimes they're even at the same event, a lot of people scratch their heads.
As they should.
Explain to me why Boise does this differently.
It's nontraditional. And it's not based on a good business decision. It's based on personalities, emotion and a bunch of other stuff. To the client, it's confusing.
But doesn't BCVB have a formal relationship with the Boise Centre on marketing?
We help offset some of the cost of the trade shows that they attend. But they seem to think their goal is how many people they can contact at a trade show. I would rather have five serious conversations with people who will buy Boise, rather than scanning 25 name badges.
How would you best characterize the bad blood between BCVB and GBAD that boiled from 2010 through 2012?
I watched the auditorium district work really hard to do things for our community, but then it deteriorated through personalities, and it got way out of control.
And there has been some change of membership on the GBAD board.
There have been a few steps toward sanity.
Is it true that Boise can't host a medium- to large-size meeting event or convention?
The Boise Centre can't even host some small groups who need specific space for exhibitors or suppliers.
If you had a magic wand to create a new facility and/or partnership, what would that look like?
I would get a flagship hotel--a Marriott, Hyatt or Hilton--and then probably 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of exhibit space. Keep the existing Boise Centre for dinners and smaller meetings.
Doesn't the city desperately need a new visitor's center?
In the back of my mind, the corner of Myrtle and Capitol would be perfect for that. I'm always proud to live here and I love selling Boise to others, but honestly, I think we're stuck right now. What connects all the dots is aggressive leadership.
Should we expect you to be part of those conversations in the near future?
I can't waste all the things I've learned. I don't have a clue what that means, but I'm excited about the future.