Marketing guru to take helm of visitors authority

In an industry known for reinventing itself, the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority has tapped a Reno woman with a strong marketing background in San Francisco to lead the gaming-oriented tourism organization.

Sharon Kelly, marketing director of the Oakland Athletics baseball team for 13 years, said Wednesday she has accepted the $65,000-a-year job. She starts in January.

The board still is negotiating the compensation package with Kelly, who is replacing Steve Teshara. He's moving on to other ventures, but declined this week to say what they are.

"I look forward to getting out in the community," Kelly said from her Reno home.

Kelly has a long history in marketing, including a stint with the San Jose Earthquakes soccer team and her most recent position at Shorenstein, Hays, Nederlander, a production and entertainment company that runs the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco.

The Chicago native commuted four days a week from Reno to the Bay area.

Kelly recalled a time during her tenure with the A's in which she gave advice to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio while he threw out the first pitch at an old-timer's game.

"I told him, 'Whatever you do, throw it to a child,'" Kelly said.

He aimed for a young boy standing at the end of the dugout with his father.

"To see the joy Joe DiMaggio brought to this father and son -- it was probably a moment they'll never forget," she said. "It was such a moment in baseball."

From a pool of 43 candidates, including Teshara, the Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority board narrowed the field to five. The members unanimously selected Kelly this week, said board Chairman Tim Tretton, director of operations at Bill's Casino.

Tretton said the board wanted an executive director with a lot of marketing experience who would work full time.

"Steve has done a wonderful job guiding the TDVA," said Skip Sayre, former TDVA board member. "We're going into a new period."

The evolution of the gaming world has changed the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance. The casino management pulled back funding for its executive director, said alliance President Mark Rittorno, Caesars Tahoe's chief.

Teshara also held this position. The private group monitored government affairs for the South Shore casino industry and worked to unite the various managers.

"Steve and Penny (Teshara) have done a great job. (But) we're looking at every expense in this business," Rittorno said, adding casino managers may decide to meet informally about subjects that directly affect their business.

One of Rittorno's goals is bringing Lakeside Inn and Casino back into the group.

President Mike Bradford said Lakeside left the group in May over philosophical differences.

"The decision to leave was a difference in priorities between the alliance and Lakeside," he said. "Our interests are local."

While Lakeside focuses most of its marketing attention locally, much of the gaming alliance's concentration has remained on the destination visitor.

The alliance was formed about 20 years ago and created the TDVA as its marketing arm.

"Steve has made a significant contribution, but this is a logical progression. We're becoming more marketing focused," Bradford said.

Teshara said he's proud of the accomplishments of both groups -- in particular the creation of the Tahoe Casino Express. The bus service shuttles passengers between the casinos and Reno/Tahoe International Airport.


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