Chairman quits Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board

Thomas "Buck" Riley led the center's expansion.
Thomas "Buck" Riley led the center's expansion.
Posted: May 13, 2011

With the construction of a sparkling, new $786 million building behind him, Thomas "Buck" Riley will step down Sunday as chairman of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority board.

The abrupt nature of Riley's resignation, announced Thursday in an e-mail to his 14 board colleagues, came as a surprise to even them, including some board members who noted that Riley was leaving before the July grand opening of the historic expansion of the 18-year-old Convention Center. The new addition is the biggest public works project in state history.

"I know in this day and age when people do something so quickly, people want to speculate," Riley said in an interview. But he said there was no underlying reason for his departure other than the one he laid out in his e-mail.

"The last four years as chairman have been most challenging and the equivalent of more than a second full-time job," he wrote. A lawyer, Riley, is chairman and chief executive officer of Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, an Exton-based firm he founded in 1984. "The center is now entering a new phase of its life, and it's time for a new chairman to take the reins."

Under state legislation that governs the authority, a new chairman will be elected by the remaining board members, each of whom is appointed by city, suburban, or state elected officials. In the interim, lawyer Carl Singley, a Democrat who is the authority's vice chairman, will act as chairman.

"He told me what he told everybody. He is exhausted. He has been doing this almost nonstop," Singley said. "If you had to point to one guy who was single-handedly responsible for orchestrating all the many players and dollars to get this building open, it's Buck."

Singley also noted that Riley presided over the expansion's "soft opening" in March, and that the July celebration would amount to "a marketing event."

Riley's unexpected resignation means there may be five new faces on the 15-member board by next winter.

Besides Riley, Democratic City Councilman Frank DiCicco is leaving since he is retiring from Council in early January. Likewise, Jim Matthews, a Republican Montgomery County commissioner, is likely headed off the board since he also is not seeking reelection. Gov. Corbett, a Republican, has also yet to name his two appointees to the board.

Riley first joined the board and became its vice chairman in 2003. That was the same time that Mayor Nutter, then a councilman, was elected board chairman following a shift in control of the board from the city to Harrisburg. Riley became chairman in 2007, succeeding Nutter.

Despite the undisputed achievement of completing the expansion, Riley leaves with no firm solutions in place to resolve concerns about high labor costs that deter some conventions from booking in Philadelphia.

"For a man in the hospitality industry, he wasn't very hospitable," said electricians' union leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, who has clashed most frequently with Riley's Convention Center board.

But carpenters' union leader Ed Coryell, whose members also work regularly at the center, called Riley "a good chairman and very intelligent guy. I think he tried to make the place better."

Politically, Riley drew attention when last February he wrote a sharply worded letter to state GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi - a fellow Republican from neighboring Delaware County.

The subject concerned how the authority would spend a $1.75 million state grant it received to mark the expansion's grand opening. Riley took offense at Pileggi's implication that the authority would not spend the money in taxpayers' best interest.

"Although our intent is not to have a 'party' at this opening, some people may actually have fun there which could lead a reporter looking for a story to write that we had a 'party.' Not sure there's much we can do about that," Riley wrote to Pileggi.

In an interview Thursday, Riley said: "Dominic and I go back long before those letters. He expressed his opinion, I expressed mine."


Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

 

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