Commerce Chief Eyed For Post Convention Job Vacancy At Issue

Posted: October 09, 1988

Several Philadelphia business and political leaders are trying to persuade a reluctant William P. Hankowsky to leave his post as city commerce director to assume day-to-day command of the troubled Center City convention center project.

The push for Hankowsky to become executive director at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority got under way last week, soon after city Water Commissioner William J. Marrazzo took himself out of the running by accepting a job in private industry.

The drive intensified as its sponsors saw no signs that the authority intended to move swiftly to find an alternative to Marrazzo, who had been the agency's choice to fill the yearlong vacancy.

Neither developer Willard G. Rouse 3d, the Convention Center Authority chairman, nor any other authority members were available last week to discuss their plans to name an executive director.

But those familiar with the search said another leading prospect for the convention center job is Gilbert A. Wetzel, who recently announced his retirement as chairman and chief executive officer of Bell of Pennsylvania. Wetzel said he had not been asked to consider the position.

Hankowsky, who has been commerce director for only eight months, said in an interview Friday that he was "challenged" by that job and is "not considering other career opportunities at this time."

He said he had discussed with Mayor Goode the overtures from business and political leaders but has had no similar meetings with Rouse. Hankowsky declined to comment on his conversation with Goode.

The mayor said through a spokeswoman that he was "aware that Bill Hankowsky's name is being floated" for the Convention Center Authority job and that the two had met to discuss the lobbying effort.

"Mr. Hankowsky has indicated that he is content and has no desire to change his employment at this point and the mayor has no desire for him to change his employment either," the spokeswoman said.

Still, the pressure was mounting late last week for Hankowsky to fill the vacancy, which is seen by many corporate and political leaders as symbolic of the continuing turmoil and delays plaguing the city's attempt to build a new convention center.

The absence of an executive director, they believe, has helped rob the estimated $478 million project of the momentum it once enjoyed. They contend that, in addition to the void in managerial expertise, the lack of an executive director has made it difficult to obtain routine information about the project.

The authority has been without a chief administrator since September 1987 when Frank M. Wright was forced out in the wake of a political battle between Gov. Casey and the Republican-dominated Convention Center Authority.

Rouse, who replaced Roger S. Hillas as authority chairman last October, initially chose to leave Wright's job vacant but changed his mind six months later because of demands to fill the position from the city's corporate and political establishment and from his own board members.

The authority voted last May to hire Marrazzo for the $115,000-a-year job but never issued a formal offer, choosing to wait until City Council authorized funding for the project, a decision that has yet to be made. That plan was thwarted when Marrazzo announced Sept. 30 that he was joining a West Chester environmental firm.

Dismayed by the authority's failure to hire Marrazzo, city business leaders, who asked not to be named, have approached key figures involved in the convention center project to argue the case for hiring Hankowsky, 37, a career government official now serving as the Goode administration's point man on the convention center. Hankowsky earns about $81,000 annually as commerce director.

According to sources familiar with those efforts, the pro-Hankowsky forces sought - and received - the all-important support of City Councilman Lucien E. Blackwell, Council's majority leader and chairman of the Finance Committee, which is holding public hearings on the project.

Blackwell declined to comment on the executive director situation, but Council sources said that he quickly embraced the idea of hiring Hankowsky and met with Goode to discuss Hankowsky's possible selection.

The nine-member Convention Center Authority ultimately will vote on the new executive director.

Behind the drive to hire Hankowsky are a number of business leaders who worked with him during his 2 1/2 years as chief operating officer at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a quasi-public agency that plays a central role in the city's economic-development efforts.

While there, Hankowsky played leading roles in persuading United Parcel Service to build a $128 million distribution center at Philadelphia International Airport and in managing the $83 million expansion of the international terminal at the airport.

He also was instrumental in drafting the state legislation that created the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

Before joining PIDC, Hankowsky was vice president and general manager of the Reading Co., where he headed plans to build the proposed Center City convention center as a private venture. City and state officials subsequently changed the nature of the project to a joint city-state public undertaking.

The campaign to move Hankowsky into the authority's top position drew cautious praise from Nicholas DiBenedictis, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

He said chamber officials always viewed Hankowsky as a "natural" for the executive director's job but would be sorry to lose him as commerce director.

"He knows the political system and he knows the convention center (project) inside-out, and he has a style that is authoritative but not domineering," DiBenedictis said of Hankowsky. "But we also think he is an excellent commerce director."

Like others in the city's political and business community, the chamber president said it was essential to fill the vacancy at the authority.

While praising Rouse, DiBenedictis said it was "very difficult" for the developer to divide his time between the convention center project and his private ventures. An executive director, he said, is needed "to do the hand- holding you have to do to make sure people know what's happening" with the project.

"You need somebody to put the whole thing together so there will be less that falls through the cracks and more information" flowing about the project.

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