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McCormick Place Taps Veteran Hospitality Executive Thomas for Helm

Oak View Group chooses hospitality industry veteran Samuel R. Thomas Jr. as the top executive at McCormick Place

By Todd R. Berger

8.3.23 Samuel Thomas Jr. t
Samuel R. Thomas Jr. joins McCormick Place Convention Center as senior vice president and general manager. | Courtesy of OVG360

Oak View Group, the management company of McCormick Place in Chicago, named veteran convention center and hospitality executive Samuel R. Thomas Jr. as senior vice president and general manager of the McCormick Place campus. Thomas, who will relocate to Chicago from Washington, D.C., where he was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Events DC, will begin his new role the first week of September.

OVG360 and OVG Hospitality, divisions of global sports and entertainment company Oak View Group, were recently awarded the contracts for private management and food and beverage services, respectively, on the McCormick Place campus by a unanimous vote of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) board.

With over three decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Thomas will not only serve as the general manager for management, but also oversee all operations and services for the McCormick Place Convention Center, the largest convention center in North America, the 10,000-seat Wintrust Arena, and the 4,249-seat Arie Crown Theater.

“We will have one of the best operators in the industry managing one of the most iconic convention centers in the world,” says Greg O’Dell, president of venue management, OVG360. “With Samuel’s extensive experience in leading both venue management and food and beverage operations for several first-tier convention centers throughout his career, there is no one better to execute our vision to optimize McCormick Place and help the MPEA and its stakeholders solidify Chicago as an ultimate destination for meeting planners and conventions. We are so thrilled to welcome Samuel to our team.”

Ken Gaber, president of OVG Hospitality, adds, “Samuel is an industry veteran who will not only provide valuable leadership to our day-to-day operations but will also create a people-focused culture that will inspire innovation and creative expression. Samuel is a welcome addition to our team.”

At Events DC, Thomas managed daily operations for Washington, D.C.’s convention and sports authority inclusive of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Entertainment & Sports Arena, RFK Stadium & surrounding Festival Grounds, the DC Armory and several community assets. His responsibilities included oversight of all aspects of facility operations, event management, sales and marketing, public safety, labor relations, organizational development and other venue competencies.

Under Thomas’ leadership, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center developed into one of the most well-regarded venues in the country and was recognized with several national and international awards during his tenure. In 2022, Successful Meetings magazine honored the convention center with the prestigious Stella Award as “Best Convention Center” in the country, and Exhibitor Magazine recognized the venue as one of the top 30 Centers of Excellence the last three years.

O’Dell and Thomas worked together at Events DC before O’Dell left the company to join OVG360 in April 2022.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m excited to join the first-class team at McCormick Place,” says Thomas. “We will partner with MPEA to continue to deliver a high level of customer service to our clients and guests while finding innovative ways to elevate each event experience. This is a people business, so I am elated to reunite with Greg in addition to working with my new team members. I can’t wait to get started.”

Prior to joining Events DC, Thomas held multiple sales and convention management positions with Marriott Corp. In addition, he served as regional vice president and general manager at Centerplate/NBSE for the Walter E. Washington Convention Center as well as serving in several executive leadership roles with the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, and Ohio’s Greater Columbus Convention Center for the Aramark Corp.