Promoting Tulsa Struck a Chord for Stewart

It shouldn? be surprising that a professional musician with a degree in education would be drawn to singing the praises of Tulsa.
Suzann Stewart, forever Tulsan and recently retired executive leader and senior vice president of The Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau, got her start with the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce in 1979 after she realized that making it in a music career would mean leaving Tulsa.
I wasn? aware of her beginnings in the music industry until we recently visited about her impressions, proudest moments and disappointments in her 30 years of marketing Tulsa.
I was more familiar with her obvious passion when discussing a coup for the city with the announcement of an event coming to town or the international media interest in digging up a rusty 1957 Plymouth Belvedere from a downtown ?ime capsule.?br>? was a professional musician from the time I was 16,?she said. ? got paid for it until I came to work here.?br>While performing at and doing marketing for Discoveryland, Stewart was offered a job as a visitor development specialist.
She knew from the outset that the job was going to put her in a position to make a difference for Tulsa.
?hen I came in, all of the downtown hotels were open. The Main Mall was a pedestrian mall. Mayfest was the big event. We still had a lot of retail down here,?Stewart said. ?owntown was very exciting.?br>The Convention Center was the major event center, but the expansion did not come until 1983. When the bottom fell out of the oil industry in 1981-82, it ?ind of put a hickey in everything we were doing,?she said.
Still, it is ?un looking back at all the change, thinking about the expansion in ?3 and now the secondary expansion 26 years later,?she said.
She reminisced about some of her favorite career highlights:
??ne of the more significant things I take a lot of pride in (is) in 1980 we hosted a travel writers tour that included Michael Wallis (author of Route 66: The Mother Road). I had a hard time talking him into coming to Tulsa until I mentioned Route 66. That was his first taste of Tulsa, and he promised me that he would be back. Sure enough, two years later, he and Suzanne moved here.?br>??he two Tulsa Project votes, the Tulsa Time project and the Tulsa Project in 1998 and 2001. Even though they failed, the process behind them was very good. The third go-around (Vision 2025) was a process that worked. We went countywide with something in it for everybody. The Vision vote is the most significant thing that we have accomplished as a community that has set the stage for everything else to follow.?br>??orming the Tulsa Sports Commission in 1991 was a big deal. I was able to serve as the chairman of the National Association of Sports Commissions for a couple of years as a result. Look at where the Tulsa Sports Commission is now ?attracting the NCAA and Conference USA, Tulsa Tough and the BMX nationals ?I can? say how proud I am in being able to help make that happen. It was one of the first organizations to even do sports marketing. We are sort of the grandmother of all of that nationally, and Tulsa is recognized as that.?br>And her greatest disappointment:
?? am sorry that I have not been able to put into place the funding to tell people what a good place Tulsa is. We are funded at less than 50 percent of our competition. Most communities with the same amenities are funded at the $6-8 million range. We are about $2.4-2.6 million. As more people move ahead, we are falling further behind in terms of being able to tell people about our amenities.?br>Why retire?
? just completed 30 years at the chamber. I think it is time that someone else moves into this role and takes it to the next level.?br>We know this isn? the swan song for Suzann Stewart.
?hen I find those things that will engage my passion, I will do it,?she said. ? know it will always be connected with the community.?



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