May 29, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Ben Seidel smiles a lot and blushes a little when he recalls how
he played solo trumpet in "The Star-Spangled Banner" before
Game Six of the 1980 World Series.
That was back when George Brett was at third base for the Kansas
City Royals, back when Seidel was a senior education major with the
West Chester University Golden Rams marching band. And even though
he had already started biking in his suit to a part-time desk clerk
job at the West Chester Hotel - the university in Pennsylvania wouldn't
allow cars on campus - he was still at heart a future music teacher.
"When I graduated, I was definitely a schoolteacher and I was
just taking a part-time job in the industry," said Seidel, who
would later teach high school band and coach sports for almost five
But that part-time job as a desk clerk was the first in what would
be a career lasting more than two decades beginning in the hotel
business, moving into the convention business, and, finally, the
job as executive director of the Connecticut Convention Center.
"Running a convention center
like this, a catalyst, an icon, a hub in a community - you've got
to know the financial side, you've got to know the sales and marketing
side, you've got to know what makes sense operationally and what
doesn't - but the key to this is just people."
Seidel, 45, moved to Hartford in 2001 for the center's groundbreaking.
He is a fast-talking, high-energy, industry-wonk-speaking manager
who fidgets in his chair and spins his wedding ring on his finger
when he gets excited. From his office window he can see the center's
entire exhibit floor, when it isn't divided up. He is the kind of
manager who says his success is the success of his team, that the
team is only as good as its people, and that he's got good people.
"If you've got the right work ethic, it's fun," he said,
before beginning one of his frequent run-on sentences. "If you
don't like working long hours and overnights and that drive to see
it come together and the staff work together and see that bride in
tears [of joy] ... or a convention that leaves town and you've signed
its contract for that next year - that's what it's all about."
In the run-up to the convention center's opening this week, Seidel
looks out of his office window onto the sprawling exhibit floor and
sees not just the product of his work, but the product of input of
consultants and designers and meeting planners who know what works
best, he said.
As a result, for instance, there's no halogen lighting - it's all
"Same light output, no heat," he
They've got incandescent lights so they can be dimmed - saving meeting
planners the expense of bringing in temporary lighting. They've got
decorative walls and columns that can be utilized instead of being
covered up with pipe and drape - an additional meeting cost, he said.
But more than a well-designed
building, the convention center is a catalyst for tourism and investment
in the city's heart, Seidel said. And even though most people think "tourism" and see
suntan lotion, kids, waves and rides, Seidel thinks "tourism" and
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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