Keith Sanford is elected chairman of Chattanooga tourism bureau

Keith Sanford is elected chairman of Chattanooga tourism bureau

President and CEO of the Tennessee Aquarium replaces Tom Cupo in leadership change

November 14th, 2017 by Dave Flessner in Breaking News

Tennessee Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board in the newspaper's offices on Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

General Manager Tom Cupo stands in the Chattanoogan hotel.

General Manager Tom Cupo stands in the Chattanoogan...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Keith Sanford, president and CEO of the Tennessee Aquarium, has been elected chairman of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to replace Tom Cupo, who resigned from the Chattanoogan Hotel and the tourism bureau after the city agreed to sell the downtown hotel Cupo has managed for the past six years.

Sanford will chair the board that oversees the non-profit tourism agency as directors look for a new executive director to replace the retiring Bob Doak, who plans to leave the bureau by February.

Sanford, a former First Tennessee Bank market president who has headed the Aquarium for the 21 months, said he is "honored to serve our community in this new role" as chair of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We have a talented board that focuses on the success of tourism in Hamilton County," Sanford said after being elected chairman of the CVB board. "The next few months are critical as we search for a new president and CEO. We are committed to finding the right person who will continue to build the momentum that Bob Doak has generated during his tenure."

This new appointment was necessary because of the resignation of Cupo, who worked for Benchmark Resorts and Hotels which managed The Chattanoogan. Cupo will be transferring to a Benchmark property in Virginia following the sale of the city-owned hotel.

"We have been extremely fortunate to have Tom on our board," Doak said in a statement. "He's been an incredible asset to not only the CVB, but to the hospitality industry and our community."

With the shift to a new chairman, additional positions opened on the executive committee. Lisa Maragnano, CARTA's executive director, has been named treasurer. Johnny O'Brien, owner of High Point Climbing & Fitness, has been added to the executive committee.

In addition, Allen Corey of STIR restaurant has been added to the search committee to find a new bureau president to succeed Doak.

The leadership changes at the tourism agency also follow the recent release of a critical audit of the bureau by the Tennessee Comptroller and criticism of the bureau from Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire for a lack of detailed receipts for employee lunches, gift cards and trips.

Sanford, who previously served as treasurer for the bureau, said the bureau revised its record keeping and employee expense forms in July to ensure better receipts are kept for employee spending and credit card purchases.

The Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau expects to receive more than $8 million from the Hamilton County motel room tax in the current fiscal year to fund the biggest share of its operations.

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This story was updated Nov. 15 at 10:30 p.m.