Venue Management Veteran Karen Totaro Takes the Helm of TCF Center

May 6, 2021

Detroit’s TCF Center has landed a new general manager. On April 19, Larry Alexander, board chairman of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority announced that Karen Totaro has been tapped by ASM Global to lead the convention center. In her new role, Totaro will be responsible for the overall management, promotion and operation of the facility, leading its team of professionals, building on key industry partnerships in the community and supporting the overall mission of the TCF Center and the DRCFA. 

“Karen Totaro is the right person at the right time to take the TCF Center back to hosting visitors and providing world class service to its valued customers as the pandemic eases,” said Bob McClintock, executive vice president of convention centers for ASM Global, which manages TCF Center. “Over the last decade, TCF Center became a gold standard in areas of security, sustainability, technology and corporate social responsibility. I know with Karen’s leadership [that] events will build on that success.”

A Certified Venue Executive, Totaro is tasked with leading the center’s team in bringing new and repeat business to the Detroit region and on behalf of ASM Global for the DRCFA, will work collaboratively with community stakeholders, clients and the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The decision to take the job at TCF Center was an easy one,” Totaro said. “The spirit of partnership in this industry is going to be that much more successful in Detroit with the former CEO of the CVB leading the DRCFA and the former GM of the TCF Center now leading the CVB.” 

Totaro replaces Claude Molinari, who served as TCF’s general manager for a decade until Jan 1, 2021, when he assumed the role of president and CEO of the DMCVB.

Totaro is no stranger to the world of venue management, and her resume is a who’s who of some of the biggest and brightest facilities in the country. Most recently, she was COO for the San Diego Convention Center Corporation, and prior to that, general manager of the Atlantic City Convention Center, assistant general manager of the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati and assistant executive director at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. 

While with the OCC’s leadership team, Totaro steered the venue toward achieving one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for a convention center in the U.S., and during her tenure at each consecutive facility, went on to be involved in advanced sustainability initiatives. According to TCF officials, she sees the highly acclaimed sustainability program at TCF Center as a golden opportunity to team build and inform clients on environmental impacts and center innovation with training and educational opportunities.

According to Alexander, Totaro is coming in with expertise and knowledge of facility operations, labor contracts, sales and service that will serve the center well in getting past COVID-19. 

“I believe she is the best leader to continue to inspire the center’s talented team in helping us sprint forward from the pandemic impact,” he said.

Totaro has served in multiple leadership roles for the International Association of Venue Managers, including being the youngest woman at the time ever voted to serve as chairman of the board. She is also one of few female general managers to lead a top 20 convention center in the U.S., including Ellen Schwartz, general manager of the Los Angeles Convention Center (an ASM Global venue) and Kirsten Dimond, vice president and general manager at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Lisa Canada, vice chairperson of the DRCFA, headed the board’s selection committee tasked with interviewing candidates before recommending Totaro to ASM Global for the position. 

“I am always thrilled to see the leadership gap for women narrow, and especially in the appointment of this position that is so important to the convention center and the Southeast Michigan region,” Canada said. “Karen’s leadership style and experience in innovation will help this venue get back to business quickly and efficiently.”

Totaro also brings a litany of industry accolades to her new position. She was named a “Woman of Influence” by Venues Today Magazine; was the cover story of FM (Facility Manager) Magazine; was awarded the “Elite Award” and highlighted as one of the “Top 12 Women Convention Center Executives” by Facilities & Destination Magazine, and led the Portland and San Diego teams in achieving the coveted IAVM “Venue Excellence Award” award.


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