The long-time director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau has announced plans to retire in the new year.

Karen Hibbard announced Wednesday she’ll depart the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce in February, after 26 years of service to Manhattan. During her tenure as CVB Director, Manhattan has seen significant additions to its convention and tourism segments, including an expanded Manhattan Conference Center and the addition of the Flint Hills Discovery Center and Blue Earth Plaza. Her office also oversees the Class 2A state high school basketball tournament each March at Bramlage Coliseum.

“I have had the fortunate opportunity to play a leadership role in Manhattan’s growth and development during my employment with the Chamber. My enthusiasm for our community couldn’t be greater and the opportunities awaiting our future visitors are indeed beyond our imagination,” she said in a Wednesday release from the Chamber of Commerce.

She and her husband Gordon plan to continue living in Manhattan and she says she’ll continue be a champion and cheerleader for the region and the state of Kansas. Chamber President and CEO Jason Smith commented on Hibbard’s upcoming departure.

“I consider it an incredible honor to have had the opportunity to get to know and work with Karen over the past three and a half years,” Smith said. “She is a remarkable champion for Manhattan and a thoughtful co-worker. I am pleased to call her my friend and am glad she is staying in Manhattan.”

Hibbard first landed a job with the Chamber in 1978, after earning her college degree and returned to the Chamber in 1997 after having served as a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer for many years. She initially did convention sales and succeeded Becky Blake as CVB director in 2005 when Blake became the Kansas Tourism Director.

Smith says he will lean on Chamber Chair Summer Ott Dierks as the search begins for Hibbard’s successor.

“Summer has a unique perspective as someone who worked at the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau before attending law school and opening her own practice,” Smith said. “She is the perfect person to advise on this process so I’ll be leaning on her expertise.”