ST. LOUIS – It’s news that could greatly impact the future of the St. Louis Convention Center: Kitty Ratcliffe, the longtime President of Explore St. Louis, is stepping down after 18 years leading the team.

The announcement comes amid recent criticisms over her handling of the $256 million convention center upgrade and expansion project. The sudden announcement also comes after it was recently revealed that the project is millions of dollars over-budget.

In a statement late Tuesday, Explore St. Louis’s Board of Commissioners praised Ratcliffe’s accomplishments over her 18-year tenure. It read, in part:

“The Board of Commissioners of Explore St. Louis and President Kathleen (Kitty) Ratcliffe jointly announced today that the Board will shortly begin a search process for Ratcliffe’s successor as she retires on August 31, 2024. Kitty Ratcliffe is held in the highest esteem in the hospitality industry for good reason and has successfully managed the St. Louis tourism industry through some challenging times during her 18 years at the helm.”

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Ratcliffe also thanked the board, issuing the following statement:

“I have been fortunate to spend my career in an industry I love – hospitality – working with some of the finest individuals both here in St. Louis and across the country. During my tenure in St Louis, our team has breathed new life into aging infrastructure and overhauled and updated our business practices, enabling us to bring more leisure and convention business to this community than ever before…I am grateful for the many awards I have received, but it is the daily work with our stellar team members to bring revenue to this community that has driven my vision.”

The more than $200 million convention center expansion project, funded by Rams Settlement money, is meant to pump life into a facility that sits empty much of the year. It’s something people downtown said they’d like to see change.