Meet The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center Team

The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center is a modern, fully-equipped venue and so much more. Our professional staff of meeting and event planners is at the heart of what sets us apart.

Meet our team and discover why the convention center is the premier place to hold conventions, trade shows, and performances as well as athletic and military events. When you work with our team expect exceptional service with unlimited planning support and coordination to ensure your event is a resounding success.

Melissa Read
General Manager

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Melissa Read has enjoyed a career in the hospitality industry for the past thirty years in sales, marketing, and management positions with companies that include Marriott Hotels, American Golf Corporation, and the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.

Originally from Maryland, Melissa and her husband first moved to Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida in 1992 where she worked in food and beverage with Sandestin Resort before becoming a member of the opening management team for Watercolor Resort. In 1996, Melissa and her husband moved to the United Kingdom to oversee country clubs for American Golf, living in Nottingham and Cornwall.

The opportunity to join the team at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center and once again call Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida home was a dream come true. Melissa is thrilled to showcase her operational experience and sales expertise to help make the convention center a destination for companies and groups from afar, so they can experience Destin-Fort Walton Beach hospitality for themselves. She is a member of Meeting Planners International (MPI) and Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA).

Travel is a passion of hers but only for vacation from now on, as she has lived in 10 different locations over the years.

Tori Combs
Convention Sales Manager

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Tori Combs brings vast customer service, event planning, and quality communication skills to the Convention Center. Tori is passionate about establishing new relationships and serving those around her. Tori holds a Bachelors of Arts in Art History from Georgia College & State University, where she graduated in 2017 as Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude. In December of 2022, Tori will finish her Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of West Georgia. Tori recently relocated to Destin-Fort Walton Beach from the state of Georgia. Prior to relocating to the emerald coast, Tori worked in higher education administration as Assistant Director of Recruitment & Admissions at Middle Georgia State University. In addition to her higher education experience, Tori worked at the visitors center for Macon, Georgia – Visit Macon. The skills Tori exemplified in her prior experience have prepared her to succeed as Sales Manager at the Convention Center.

During her free time, Tori enjoys spending time with her husband, family, friends and cat, Charlie. She spends much of her time outdoors, especially on the water, exploring the captivating Destin-Fort Walton Beach area.

Aline Ibanes
Convention Sales Manager

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Aline Ibanes is an experienced sales professional who has been working in the hospitality industry for 21 years. She has great customer service skills and absolutely loves assisting her clients in planning their events. She speaks fluent Spanish as well as Portuguese, her native language, which helps to break the language barrier.

Aline holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism and Hospitality from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

In her free time, she enjoys the beach, long walks, watching movies, and spending time with her Yorkie, Lilly.

Kevin Price
Convention Sales Manager

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Kevin Price brings a wealth of hospitality experience from over 12 years of working in hotels including Hampton by Hilton, Four Points by Sheraton, Holiday Inn Resort and Best Western.

From his old Kentucky home, Kevin relocated to the Emerald Coast in 2012 arriving with little more than a bachelor’s degree, a congenial spirit and a willingness to work hard. Front Desk to Sales Coordinator, then Sales Manager to Director of Sales, Kevin quickly worked his way to the top of the ladder. After demonstrating years of dedication in many successful hospitality deployments, Kevin will realize his goal of joining the convention center sales team.

Having won several music awards and with many songs played on various radio stations, when he’s not writing, playing, singing or recording music, Kevin is a dedicated father, a Kentucky Basketball fan, a youth mentor and an aspiring entrepreneur.

Ron Shumard
Sports Sales + Marketing Coordinator

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Ron is an Ohio University alumnus with a master’s in sports administration and facilities management. Beginning his career at the Capital Center in Maryland, Ron has dedicated his career to sports, facilities and event marketing. His past endeavors included positions with the Washington Capitals and Bullets, Nashville Sound, Texas Rangers, Rupp Arena, and being the founder of Showtime Baseball Tournaments in 2017.

From the start, Ron has been involved in hosting large occasions for extremely diverse and notorious events including NCAA Regional Basketball Tournaments, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney concerts, MLB All-Star games and The XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta.

Ron spends his free time attending sporting events from college football to major league baseball. He enjoys exploring the natural beauty of the earth, being immersed in various cultures and relaxing at the beach. He is excited to bring his sports passion to Destin-Fort Walton Beach with the goal of making the community a better place, welcoming visitors and growth.

Heather Lightsey, CMP, CVP
Event Manager

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For as long as she can remember, Heather has enjoyed creating innovative event ideas, often putting together inspiration boards for different events in her loved ones’ lives as soon as she was old enough to handle a set of crayons. A search through various career paths led Heather to enroll in the hospitality program at The University of Alabama, where she was able to take her love of creative event concepts and transform it into a budding career. After acquiring her degree, she followed her passion to the beautiful beaches of Destin, Florida, where she joined the team at the (then) Emerald Coast Convention Center in 2014. In 2017, Heather was promoted to Event Supervisor and later to Event Manager. In her current role, she is able to highlight her operational and leadership proficiencies by overseeing the Event Services, Operations, and Security teams at the Convention Center.

Heather is an active member of the Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) and the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) where she volunteers on various committees. A 2021 graduate of IAVM’s Venue Management School Graduate Institute, Heather has received both her Certified Meetings Professional (CMP) and Certified Venue Professional (CVP) certifications.

During her free time, Heather enjoys antique shopping and reading vintage cookbooks.

Danielle Thomas
Event Coordinator

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Danielle has spent her entire professional career doing what she does best: providing the best possible customer service through managing people. Her experience is very well-rounded after spending over a decade in the hospitality industry before setting her sights on the fast-paced and competitive retail world. As much fun as that was, Danielle realized after planning her own wedding that she had fallen in love with events! Ready for a new challenge and an opportunity to flex her professional strengths, she leapt into the event industry in 2021 by joining the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center team.

Danielle’s drive for professional excellence paired with her native Florida status has been beneficial for every client she has worked with! She brings a charismatic edge to her client’s events with a local’s perspective on what to do, see, and eat during their downtime here in Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

When she isn’t working, you can usually find Danielle at the beach or the zoo with her little one, or at the ball field rooting on her nephews during T Ball season!

Lee Holland
Event Coordinator

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Lee has a wide variety of administrative experience spanning over 20 years. From 2014 until 2021, she worked for a privately owned company as their Travel and Event Planner where she coordinated and planned over 30 events each year. In March 2021, she moved to Destin-Fort Walton Beach and worked various administrative jobs until finding her home at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center.

When not working, Lee enjoys spending time with her fiancé and their “fur-babies” Dash and Snickers! Lee has two children that she chats with as much as she can and loves when they visit so she can show them her beautiful new home. She also has a love of the ocean and spends as much time at the beach as possible.

Darrell Foley
Event Operations Supervisor

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Darrell Foley has worked along the Panhandle from Panama City to Pensacola in the construction industry building high-rise condos since his early 20s. Originally from Florala, Alabama, he enlisted in the Navy where he spent eight years as a Machinist Mate and diesel mechanic serving on board the USS White Plains and the USS Enterprise. His Navy career led him to Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi where he operated and tested equipment on board newly built U.S Navy ships.

Darrell couldn’t keep away from Destin-Fort Walton Beach and moved back to the area. He started at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center in July 2006 providing both audio and video lighting services as an AV technician. He’s been involved with the many changes and ongoing updates of the convention center and its technology while also supporting the set-up and tear-down of every event.

When he’s not building events at the DFWBCC, Darrell spends his time gardening, playing music, kayak fishing, and singing in his church choir.

Ginger Holder
General Manager at Aramark

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Ginger brings over 35 years of experience in the hospitality and food service industries and is committed to a work ethic of “everyday excellence.” Ginger served as the Director of Operations for Aramark/Sports + Entertainment at the University of South Carolina for four years and has been an invaluable addition to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center team. Ginger has two adult children who live in South Carolina, and she loves talking with them often. She enjoys going to the gym, watching educational documentaries, and spending time outside, exploring what she calls “paradise”.

Joe Sinopoli
Executive Chef at Aramark

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Joe Sinopoli, Executive Chef for Aramark has over 30 years of culinary experience. A native of Massachusetts, he began his career as an apprentice to a Swiss chef in Oregon. Embracing his passion for cooking, Joe traveled all over the country, honing his craft in a variety of venues. He has been with Aramark for seven years and loves being able to show his creative side in every dish he prepares and embraces dining concepts that are new and different–often using cutting-edge techniques and ingredients. When Joe isn’t preparing fabulous meals at the Convention Center, he enjoys taking long rides on his Harley and spending time on the beach with his beautiful wife. Joe also enjoys fishing and watching nature documentaries to unwind after a busy workday.

Heather Merritt
Catering Sales Manager at Aramark

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Heather Merritt brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in hospitality, with over 10 years working in the industry. She is a native to the Northwest Florida area, born and raised in Pensacola, Florida. She is proud to call this beautiful coast her home and is passionate about creating memorable experiences for her guests that showcase all that our area has to offer.

Heather holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management from the Dedman College of Hospitality at Florida State University. She is eager to utilize her problem-solving and excellent communication skills, as well as her passion for excellent customer service to provide the best possible experience for each guest that she works with at the Destin Fort Walton Beach Convention Center.

In her free time, Heather enjoys spending time visiting with her family, or just a relaxing day at home with her boyfriend Alex and their two dogs, Silvy and Mila.