LT 2017: Port Tampa Bay & Agriculture Day

Port Ag 1By: John M. Astrab IV

On March 8th, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Leadership Tampa Class of 2017 spent the day at the Strawberry Festival and at Port Tampa for Agriculture and Port Day.  The group boarded the bus from Port Tampa at 8:45am for a land far away known as Plant City to learn about the impact that agriculture has on Hillsborough County at the Strawberry Festival. The program Day Chairs were Tino Provenzano, Senior Environmental Specialist for Mosaic and John Thorington, Jr., Vice President of Government Affairs and Board Coordination of Port Tampa Bay.
At 9:30am the class arrived at the Festival grounds and was greeted on the bus by Lee Bakst, Assistant Manager of the Strawberry Festival, who provided an overview of the day at the festival. His enthusiasm for both the festival and Hillsborough County agriculture resonated throughout the day. After disembarking the bus, the group headed to the festival’s executive board room where Festival President Dan Walden provided information on the history of the festival and its annual production. Dan pointed out that the festival is self-funded, requiring no assistance from government entities, and is a family-friendly, alcohol-free environment.

Festival Statistics:

  • The festival was started as a Country Music venue in 1930.
  • The 2017 Festival theme was “We’re Playing Your Song.”
  • The 10-day festival has approximately 500,000 visitors annually and takes a volunteer staff of approximately 2,000 people to assist the paid staff of 20 to execute.
  • There is an $11 million net GDP increase to Hillsborough County on approximately $26 million in customer spending as a result of the Festival.

After the ovPort Ag 2erview of the festival, the class went to see the Florida Strawberry Field Exhibit. There, the class participated in a discussion with the staff of the Florida State Growers Association (FSGA) on the impact of the strawberry industry on Hillsborough County. The FSGA was created to help growers have a voice on trade with the local, state and federal legislatures as it pertains to international trade.  Currently, Mexican strawberries have been suppressing the price of berries for Florida growers as the crops have overlapping seasons. The FSGA is lobbying for more fair trade practices to support the price per flat of strawberries, which has remained at breakeven level for most farmers in the last 5 years due to the competition from Mexico.

Hillsborough County Strawberry Statistics:

  • Strawberries are grown from October to April each year and are approximately 40% of the agriculture revenue in Hillsborough County.
  • There are two main varieties of berries currently being commercially grown in Hillsborough County: Radiant (70%) and Sweet Sensation (30%).
  • Of the 12,000 Acres of Strawberries planted annually in Hillsborough County, only 250 acres are dedicated to organics. The low organics acreage is due to the challenges that weather and bugs present to growers in Florida.
  • On average, each acre of strawberry fields yields approximately 30,000 flats of strawberries per season.

The festival tour continued to the Livestock Exhibit Show Floor where the class was treatedPort Ag 3 to an overview presented by two Hillsborough County high school students participating in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.  This is a program of approximately 18,000 middle and high school students across the state of Florida, 5,000 of which come from Hillsborough County.  The presenters discussed that FFA educates students on not only the business of livestock but ethics and the dedication and discipline needed to care for animals.  The students in the program purchase and raise animals, including rabbits, sheep, goats and cattle, with the intent to sell them at the end of the school year. At the end of the presentation, the students took the class on a tour of the stables where the animals were being kept for judging during the show.

Port Ag 4After the livestock tour, the class was treated to a fantastic southern comfort meal of pork and chicken back in the executive boardroom. Of course, no trip to the Strawberry Festival would be complete without a gut-busting strawberry shortcake for dessert (which was well received by the class).

As the class was finishing up lunch, Day Chair Tino Provenzano led a panel discussion with Jake Austin, CEO of Plant City Economic Development Corporation and Alex Walter (LT’14), Managing Partner of Walson Ventures, LLC and Owner/Operator of Thundercloud Ranch. During the discussion, the topic of trends in agriculture struck a nerve with both Alex and Jake.  Alex, being a farm owner, discussed how water rights are becoming an increasingly large problem not just for him but for farms nationwide.  He talked about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightening regulations on the definition of clean water to the point that some their standards call for water cleaner than rain water.  Additionally, Alex felt that there needed to be more collaboration between the local and federal levels of the EPA.

Jake, coming from the economic development side, talked about labor and the impact of mechanical harvesting grant funds on agribusiness. The goal of the grant funding is to lower the cost per acre of product harvested by removing the need for unskilled labor and in turn keep more small farmers afloat so they can compete on pricing pressures being caused by foreign product.

The panel discussion concluded at 1:00pm and the class boarded the bus to head back toPort Ag 5 Tampa for a 2:00pm discussion with Paul Anderson, President and CEO of Port Tampa Bay.  Port Tampa can trace its roots back to the early 1800s with the first shipments of goods being cattle to Cuba. Through the early 1900s, it would grow to become a major port along the Gulf Coast, primarily through the moving of agricultural product including cattle and timber. Today, the port moves break bulk, liquid bulk, cargo containers and cruise passengers.  Paul also provided the following facts about the port:

  • In 2016, the port had a $17.2 billion impact on the region and supported 85,000 jobs.
  • In 2016, the port generated $52 million in revenue and $28 million in profit.
  • The port maintains an A-rating by various ratings agencies.
  • The current Port Tampa is a quasi-public entity that was founded in 1945 and is the largest, land acreage-wise, in Florida.
  • Nearly half of the fuel in the state of Florida comes though Port Tampa.
  • The cruise terminal continues to grow with 8 year-round ships and is expected to surpass one million passengers for the first time in 2017.
  • In early 2016 the Port invested $24 million in two new container cranes to support larger cargo ships that will be coming through the Panama Canal as the expansion is completed.

To end the day, the Class went for an hour-long boat tour of the Port aboard the Florida Aquarium’s Bay Spirit II.


LT 2017: Sports Day

By Josh Bomstein

Those folks, like me, who grew up a fan of the Bucs, Rays, Rowdies, Lightning, and Bandits (now defunct) know that being a Tampa Bay sports fan takes grit and perseverance. Our teams raise us up with their successes and frustrate us with their losses.  But most importantly, we love them! There is no denying that Tampa Bay is a region imbued with affection for sports, and they play (no pun intended) a significant role in our business community and culture at-large.

Donned in fan gear from our favorite Tampa Bay teams, LT ’17 (GOAT) was pumped up for sports day (sponsored by Troy Atlas of Raymond James and chaired by Scott Garlick of Cushman Wakefield (LT ’10)).  The first stop was the Amelie Arena, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sports Day 1

We toured the 20 year old arena and learned some interesting facts about it and the franchise:

  • The Lighnting have invested more than $60M in improvements to the arena since 2011.
  • The Lightning (as of that day) had sold out 94 consecutive home games.
  • They have the largest pipe organ in sports and the second largest tesla coil in the world.
  • Franchise financial performance goal is to break-even in regular season; 2016 the franchise broke-even in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Vinik (principal owner) is intensely focused on good service, fan experience, and always opts for the “best” in decision-making even personally sitting in every new seat option evaluated prior to replacing all seats in the arena.

We heard from Jared Dillon (EVP of the Lightning, Storm, and Amelie Arena); highlights of his talk include:

  • The lightning are relentlessly focused on their fans and treating them to a great experience.
  • With only 1/3 of the fan base from Florida, a challenge is breaking residents of their non-Tampa team allegiances; hence a strong focus on making the youth of Tampa bay lifelong fans of the Lightning.
  • Jared is a fan of Dale Carnegie and Simon Sinek’s theories on effective leadership.
  • He practices the “golden rule” and focuses on leading with empathy, genuine care and concern for people utilizing eye contact and human contact.
  • An unofficial mantra of the staff of the Lightning is “What Would Jeff Vinik do?” Clearly Mr. Vinik is the heart of the organization and his pursuit of excellence has created a culture focused on victories on and off the ice.
  • The Lightning have an “employee innovation lab” where employees can share their great ideas many of which have been used by the team.

Next we heard from Rob Higgins, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Highlights of his dynamic presentation include:

  • The commission targets the “right” events that will have the best impact for the community.
  • They donated $1M to Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough Schools via their “Extra Yard for Teachers” campaign which ran in conjunction with the NCAA Football National Championship game in January.
  • Though the exact economic impact is still being tallied, the National Championship game was a massive success with major increases in hotel rooms stays and rates and an increase in flights into and out of TIA.
  • The Commission is constantly focused on “raising the bar” and the National Championship game was the penultimate success showcasing Tampa Bay in a great light. Key elements of the fan experience and subsequent media coverage was the Riverwalk, the “Yacht Village”, and the beaches.
  • The Commission hopes for Tampa to be the first city to host the game twice.
  • A big push for the commission is hosting youth sports events which have a large economic impact (i.e. recently the youth volleyball tournament was hosted here with 390 teams!)

Next stop was Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg, home to the Rowdies.

Sports Day 2

We were led on a tour/discussion by Lee Cohen, Chief Operating Officer of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Highlights of the visit include:

  • The Rowdies have a long history in Tampa Bay preceding the current team. The Rowdies originally played at old Tampa Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s.

Sports Day 3

  • The Rowdies play in the United States Soccer League, a minor league to Major League Soccer.
  • Rowdies are competing for one of four new Major League Soccer franchises to be awarded over the next 18 months.
  • They are highly focused on using technology to maximize results and utilize extensive data analytics to track performance.
  • Minimum salary is $65,000 in the MLS and the average USL player earns $5000/month.
  • The team is made up of players from many countries, and their “designated” player is Joe Cole.
  • Al Lang Stadium currently holds 7000 (average game attendance is 5800); the proposed renovation to the stadium to host MLS team (if awarded one) will add an additional 11,000 seats.

From there we headed to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sports Day 4

After pictures with Raymond, Josh Bullock (Vice President Corporate Partnerships) led us to the field. Highlights included:

  • An amazing live rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” led by the talented soprano voice of Josh Bullock followed by a tour of the locker room.
  • Delicious lunch of various Cuban sandwiches and other tasty treats and coffee, finally coffee. Thanks Rays!
  • Josh spoke briefly regarding the organization’s efforts to put employees first creating a strong culture of community involvement.
  • He also addressed the ever-present question regarding a new stadium by simply stating that the team has narrowed their potential sites to two in Pinellas and two in Hillsborough.
  • Josh kindly presented an award to this author for the “Best Rays gear” worn that day, an obvious choice.

Sports Day 5

Jeff Cogen, Chief Business Officer for the Rays, spoke. Highlights of his discussion included:

  • Many innovative new programs to “thank” season ticket holders including a rewards points program similar to those used by credit card companies.
  • Many new options being offered for fans to purchase tickets in addition to new incentive programs to help attract more fans to the games.
  • The goal is to build a season ticket holder base that is sustainable.

Eric Wesiberg, ‎Senior Director of Marketing, also spoke. Key points he addressed include:

  • New video marketing which is being completed in-house. They provide a more “homegrown” and relatable feel than previous campaigns.
  • They are focused on their gameday giveaways and research shows that fans want “wearable” items so mark your calendars for July 22 – DJ Kitty adult onesie giveaway night!

Stephen Thomas. Director of Community Engagement spoke last regarding Rays community involvement and the motto of “making dreams come true.” He discussed some programs including “Reading with the Rays” of which 20,000 kids have participated and the yearly work done with local Little League teams including free jerseys for the youth. Many Rays players are enthusiastic about giving back to the community notably Chris Archer and Evan Longoria.

From the Trop we headed back across the bridge to One Buc Place, the training facility for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, we received a tour of their impressive facility which has state-of-the-art fitness, health, wellness and administrative components. Brian Ford, Chief Operating Officer for the Bucs, started his discussion with the statement:

“We are a sports town. No doubt about it.”

Sports Day 6

His in-depth look at the Buccaneers on and off the field included the following highlights:

  • Jameis Winston has exceeded expectation on and off the field.
  • He is the first QB with 4000+ yards in each of his first two seasons!
  • With no more long term season ticket contracts, they are focused on exceeding expectations each season.
  • Raymond James is the second longest naming rights of any venue in all of major league sports.
  • The business side of the NFL is extremely organized.
  • There is great sharing of information on business operations across teams.
  • All improvements to Raymond James Stadium are to enhance the fan experience, and they have been ranked #1 for gameday fan experience.
  • He stressed that they are in the “entertainment” business.
  • The Glazers are “fans first.”
  • The Bucs are highly focused on community giving through their “Bucs for a Better Bay” initiative. They encourage players to give back and have strong connections with both military and local schools.
  • He expressed great gratitude that he gets to do what he does every day, and noted that Tampa Bay is not a big city but is a true “community.” Words get around quickly, hence the relentless emphasis on good behavior and giving back.

Brian’s discussion was followed by a panel discussion around ticketing/marketing led by Ben Milsom, Chief Ticketing Officer. The Bucs then graciously hosted us for de-brief, snacks, and beverages in the impressive lobby of One Buc Place.

It was day filled with fun and a lot was learned about the role each team plays in the City of Tampa and larger Tampa Bay region. Our teams emotionally connect the region like no other asset we have. Go Bolts! Go Rowdies! Go Rays! Go Bucs!

LT 2017: Tampa International Airport & Economic Development Day

From Flights to Flights: The Many Facets of Tampa Economic Development

By: Christopher S.D. Rogers

Last week, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Leadership Tampa Class of 2017 got a deeper understanding of the Tampa International Airport Master Plan and Economic Development in the Tampa Bay area. Boarding a bus bright and early at 7:30 to head to Tampa International Airport, we were treated to the boundless enthusiasm of Colleen Chappell, President & CEO, ChappellRoberts. In addition to providing an overview of the day and the importance of economic development for our region, Ms. Chappell challenged the class with some early morning Tampa Economic Trivia.


At Tampa International Airport, we were greeted by Kari Goetz, Director of Marketing and Chris Minner, Vice President of Marketing, who provided an enlightening overview of the airport and its 953 million dollar master plan project currently underway – a bird’s eye view, as it were, of one of the most important economic development assets in Tampa. Mr. Minner reminded the class that the airport’s mission “is to be a major driver in the economic growth of the Tampa Bay region” and “to be a leading-edge innovator to create global access and world class customer service to build prosperity for its stakeholders.”  Tampa International Airport is certainly meeting its mission objectives. Among notable recent achievements:

  • In April 2016, Tampa International Airport was ranked best large airport in the nation by passengers based on a survey of more than 170,000 airport users.
  • In December 2016, Tampa International Airport was ranked No. 2 in customer satisfaction by J.D. Power for top airports in North America for the second year in a row.
  • TIA continues to expand international and domestic routes with recently announced international direct flights to Germany, Cuba, and Iceland, and domestic non-stop to San Francisco. With other new services from Frontier, Spirit, United, and Southwest planned for 2017, the airport continues to be guided by its mission “to be a thriving aviation gateway for the Tampa Bay region.”


Of note to the class was the importance of data and data-driven analysis. Mr. Minner emphasized multiple times the fact that airlines make decisions based on data and that TIA has built a reputation of providing accurate and compelling data-driven business cases to the airlines.


Following the presentation, we received a behind the scenes tour of the airport and the ongoing construction that is expected to create over 9,000 jobs. From the new concessions, to the automated people movers, consolidated rental car facility (including a large TECO operated solar power farm), and focus on customer experience, the overall impression one gets is that our airport is well positioned for the future. As one class member stated, “like our local sports teams, TIA has to be considered one of the gems of Tampa Bay!” Thus ended our first set of “flights” for the day…


From TIA, we traveled back downtown for a panel discussion on how economic development drives economic prosperity. Moderated by Colleen Chappell, panelists were: Lee Evans, Executive Director and Site Head North America Capability Center, Bristol-Meyers Squibb; Lisa Marier, Senior Vice President, Director of Development and Operations, Strategic Property Partners; Mark Sharpe, Executive Director, Tampa Innovation Alliance (and former Hillsborough County Commissioner); and Craig Richard, President and CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.


Addressing questions about Tampa’s most important assets and reasons for businesses to relocate or grow in Tampa, several common themes came to the forefront:

  • Talent: the panel was unanimous in the importance of talent availability to business and that this is an area of strength for Tampa Bay. The panelists agreed that the Tampa Bay Region is one of the most vibrant places they’ve ever done business with a readily available supply of skilled labor across industries and disciplines. Closely associated with talent availability is our quality of life; Tampa is a welcoming, climate friendly community with ever expanding cultural and recreational outlets. The excitement around an increasingly urban activated vibrant environment through SPP’s plans will further attract talent to Tampa.
  • Economic Climate & Collaboration: with a low cost of living, low taxes, a non-adversarial and collaborative relationship with municipalities, and cooperation rather than competition among institutions creating economic growth, Tampa is well positioned to leverage its assets and further define its value proposition – this creates not only an attractive environment for business but also further allows us to retain and attract talent. Collaboration was heavily emphasized as an asset with USF, UT, the Tampa Innovation Alliance (itself a model of collaboration), SPP, the airport, and the port all looking to work together for Tampa’s success.

It was noted in the Milken Institute ranking of cities that Tampa has moved from 169th in 2009 to 33rd in 2016, a dramatic leap forward. This led the class to ask the panelists their thoughts on what it would take to break into the top 10 by 2020. It was generally agreed that on the positive side of the equation the strengths articulated above have us on the right track. Tampa’s areas of opportunity include better articulating our overall value proposition, attracting more venture capital to support an increasingly strong start up and innovation ecosystem, and addressing what is perhaps our most pressing need – our transportation infrastructure. We remain an auto-centric region in need of coordinated improvement in non-car-based transportation options.

After this engaging panel discussion, the class transitioned to the EDC offices and broke into six small teams for exercises looking at key aspects of economic development efforts within each department of the EDC. Teams addressed areas such as the strategic and legislative issues related to funding of Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida, and business incentives; investor engagement in the EDC to expand national media campaigns; how to focus recruitment objectives relative to target industries; how to brand the Tampa Bay Region in a way that articulates a value proposition beyond the pro-business climate and quality of life, which Tampa shares with some other markets; and, how the EDC can effectively manage and prioritize the existing portfolio of businesses to maximize outreach efforts.  A key takeaway from these exercises for the class was an understanding and appreciation of the multiple functions of the EDC. While seeking to develop and sustain the local economy, the EDC must maintain focus on attraction, retention, and expansion, i.e., different business sectors with potentially different immediate needs. As a team, we were impressed with the EDC’s skilled management and prioritization with limited staff resources.


The final stop of Economic Development Day was Cigar City Brewing for a panel discussion on the economic impact of the craft brew industry in Tampa Bay. Moderated by Michael Blasco, CEO, Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally, panelists included Justin Clark, COO, Cigar City Brewing; Anthony Derby, President, Brew Bus Brewing; and Mike Harting, Owner, 3 Daughters Brewing. With over 2 billion dollars in economic impact in Florida and over 30 breweries in the Tampa Bay area alone, the craft brew industry is having an increasingly significant impact on economic development. Named a top 2016 craft beer city by multiple sources (e.g.,,,, USA Today), the Tampa brew scene is both a driver of tourism and a beneficiary of tourism – as Tampa gets a name for being a “brew city,” it attracts beer and brewery tourists, and as tourists experience Tampa breweries, the market reach expands.


Indeed, the breakneck pace of the craft beer industry’s growth creates its own challenges relative to talent, growth forecasting, equipment availability, and cash flow. Craft breweries are also industry disruptors in a segment that was traditionally dominated by a small number of very large companies, and the distribution and sales infrastructure has not adapted quickly to many smaller breweries. The panel also emphasized the importance of cooperation, a note that echoed the economic development panel earlier in the day. Tampa Bay Region craft breweries, while each seeking to make the best beer, believe that “more breweries results in more sales.” Rather than seeing each other as competitive threats, there is a feeling that multiple breweries help Tampa be seen as a “brew city”; thus creating awareness, expanding markets, and increasing overall demand.

Of course, it would be irresponsible after such an in-depth discussion of the economic impact of craft breweries not to support our local economy… thus, we ended the day with different kinds of flights than we started.

From Flights to Flights, studying and supporting Tampa Bay economic development!


LT 2017: Government & Infrastructure Day

Government and Infrastructure Day started at the Greater Tampa Chamber Office and was sponsored by Bryant, Miller Olive and their most capable representative Kareem Spratling (LT 12).


Bob Rohrlack, President and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

Our Day began with an introduction from Bob Rohrlack (Leadership Gainesville ’89), who provided an overview of Vision 2026, the roadmap to Organizational Excellence for the Chamber. This 10 year Plan is built upon 3 Pillars: To be a Catalyst; to be a HUB for Business; and to be an Inclusive Organization. This plan is the foundation for strategic planning and is reflected in the Strategic Goals for 2017 – 2019.

Dr. Susan McManus, Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the University of South Florida

drmcmanusOur next speaker was the nationally known political expert Dr. Susan McManus, and we knew we were in for a thorough and insightful discussion. Dr. McManus focused on the important role of local government in Florida. We learned how the “Ps” of politics (e.g., Police, Potholes, Property, and Pollution, etc.) are driving issues in local politics and that by being closer to their constituents, the leaders of these nearly 2,200 local governments, separated into 4 areas (i.e., Counties, Cities, School Districts and Special Districts), are best able to address these issues. As a result, they tend to be the most trusted by their constituents. Dr. McManus explained that local governments are created by the individual states and are uniquely subject to obligations, privileges, powers and restrictions they impose. She went on to describe the three forms of county government in Florida (Traditional Commission, Commission Administrator, and Council-County Executive) and the four forms of city government (Commission, Council Manager, Weak Mayor-council, and Strong Mayor-council). For example, Tampa is a strong Mayor-Council city within Hillsborough County, which is a County-Administrator county. Dr. McManus explained that we elect our local officials either through At-large District Residency, Single Member Districts or a combination of the two. Of the 67 school boards in Florida, 41 of the superintendents are elected, while 26 are appointed by the School Board. Finally, although the Special Districts are often the least well known, their functions are often the most popular among residents, including Community Development/Redevelopment, Fire Control & Rescue.

Dr. McManus explained that there are big challenges for local governments in the Tampa Bay area, especially since most of these issues are metropolitan-wide which require cooperation vs competitiveness between jurisdictions to find solutions. This must also be balanced considering the many federal and state mandates that must be met while addressing the concerns of voters, including an anti- tax sentiment, economic uncertainties, and a new way of communicating with constituents while addressing ever-changing technologies and cybersecurity concerns. Tampa Bay is increasingly becoming a power in Florida politics when you consider its racial/ethnic makeup, diverse political geographies (rural/urban/suburban) diverse age composition, partisan composition and the size of the media market. As data from the 2016 election is gathered and analyzed, it has become clear that Tampa Bay is playing an increasing role in Florida and national politics while working to support the needs of local communities.

Mike Suarez, Tampa City Council, District 1 and Council Chairman

mikesuarezWe were fortunate to have Mike Suarez join us to discuss the Tampa City Council and his role as Council Chairman. Mr. Suarez explained that although the main responsibility of the City Council is to enact ordinances and resolutions administered by the mayor, it is also tasked with reviewing and signing contracts, land-use planning and zoning issues, and establishment of various boards. Questions from the LT ’17 crowd addressed impacts of legalized marijuana on current zoning, balancing conflict of interest while performing council duties and impacts for future infrastructure work under the proposed Trump Administration spending. An interesting point stressed by Mr. Suarez was that as a City Council member he is prohibited from discussing zoning and land-use issues privately, and that if approached by anyone on a personal level (including family), he is obligated to report it at the next council meeting.

Hillsborough County Center discussions

  • Craig Latimer, Supervisor of Elections for Hillsborough County

craiglatimerSeveral speakers awaited us at the Hillsborough County Center, starting with Craig Latimer who was both knowledgeable and engaging. He shared how he and his team delivered superior results to the voters in Hillsborough County, earning the Governor’s Sterling Award for performance excellence. Mr. Latimer stated “It’s all about the process,” and that includes having a well-trained and dedicated staff to execute the process. He shared that Election Day voting is 9 times more expensive and  voters are increasingly choosing the mail-in and early voting options. Even still, some 3,500 poll workers were needed on Election Day to ensure a smooth process and delivered with secure results. Since Hillsborough County has picked 20 of the last 21 Presidential Candidates, it is no wonder that there was a media blitz in Mr. Latimer’s lobby on Election Day with all eyes on Florida and the I-4 Corridor. Mr. Latimer fielded a barrage of questions from the LT ’17 attendees related to election security, sun-setting of the Voters Rights Act, vote re-counts, ballot style and configuration, exit polling and the certification process. In the end, it was reassuring to know that voting in Hillsborough County is serious business.

  • Andrew Warren, Hillsborough County State Attorney

andrewwarrenWe then heard from Andrew Warren (LT ’16) who was recently elected to his position over incumbent Mark Ober. Mr. Warren began with the question “What does the State Attorney do?” and went on to explain that his office prosecutes state level crimes in Hillsborough County whereas the Attorney General prosecutes civil cases for the state of Florida. His office has 308 employees, including 135 prosecutors, making it the largest law firm in Hillsborough County. He stated that a strong community is built upon three areas that are interdependent: Economics, Education and Criminal Justice. He believes that Criminal Justice must consider these 4 components: Retribution, Recidivism, Rehabilitation and Restitution. In the long run, the community becomes safer when it addresses the long-term consequences of the justice system on education and economics. Mr. Warren fielded several questions from the LT ’17 attendees related to which cases his office pursues, normal time to adjudicate cases, roles of schools in criminal justice, relationship between law enforcement and citizens, and the increase of cybersecurity crimes. It is clear that Mr. Warren is excited and ready to lead the Hillsborough County State Attorneys forward.

  • Transportation and Infrastructure Panel Discussion

Joe Waggoner, CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA)

Katerine Eagen, CEO, Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority (HART)

Ray Chiaramonte, Executive Director, Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA)

transportationpanelWe ended the morning with a panel discussion on Transit and Transportation where each of the panelists described their organizations and the challenges/opportunities that they face. A common theme was that Transportation and Transit solutions are not complex and require cooperation across many jurisdictions.

Mr. Chiaramonte explained that TBARTA was established in 2007 and adopted its first master plan in 2009. TBARTA represents the 8 county Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) impacting Tampa Bay, and coordinates closely with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

Ms. Eagen described several initiatives at HART including rideshare, autonomous vehicles, incorporating Google technology into bus service, and providing service to those living in food deserts and/or having physical disabilities. She stated that HART is “blowing up the current transit model” and is transforming from a bus company to a transit company.

Mr. Waggoner explained that THEA owns and maintains the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway. Explaining that the tollway was built using bonds, he said that the current revenue stream supports maintenance and operations. Mr. Waggoner explained how the use of Reversible Express Lanes (REL) was a first in addressing urban congestion. THEA is also exploring new technology moving forward, including automated vehicle technology and connected vehicles.

The panel fielded several questions from the LT ’17 attendees including how to best overcome resistance to change, change management, funding, and communication across jurisdictions. It became obvious that Transportation & Transit continues to be a complex issue requiring cooperation among leadership to resolve.

Lunch with Mayor Bob Buckhorn

mayorlunchThe group experienced the healthiest mode of inner-city transportation by walking to Tampa Club to meet with Mayor Buckhorn (Leadership Florida ’98). As expected, Mayor Buckhorn provided an inspiring introduction where he shared his pride of the City of Tampa over hosting the National Football Championship. The Mayor fielded questions for the LT ’17 attendees including what’s next in development of Tampa as a “Well City” in Channelside, capturing the essence of Tampa, future development of the Port of Tampa, and looking at other cities as role models.

In a nutshell, the mayor shared that Tampa is a city on the verge of radical transformation with a unique and diverse community. This city is a magnet for talent and new business but recognizes that we must address our lack of mobility. To do this, we can look to what other cities are doing and take lessons when we can.

Afternoon activity “Leadership Tampa Amazing Race”

There are no words to express the shock and awe that awaited us as we were broken into 12 teams based purely on the luck of the draw. Our task: To be the first to return to the Chamber Office after completing a series of stops using five separate modes of transportation (documented with selfies), and completing 5 Road Block Challenges. Each team had their own unique experiences and challenges along the way, and the debrief left us all in stitches. The afternoon can best be captured in a single phrase, “Man Down!!”


LT 2017: Health Care Day

By Ray A. Wong and Jason Grinstead

Health Care Day marked an almost one month holiday break from our typical biweekly Leadership Tampa program schedule.  What better way to pick up where we left off than to investigate some of Tampa’s best healthcare institutions: Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
It’s worth noting, prior to diving into the details of our program day, the reasons behind the need to dedicate a program day to Tampa’s healthcare industry.  One need not look deeper than the economic impact that hospitals have in Florida to realize why the subject is a matter of concern to us here in Tampa.  Recent figures show that, in Florida, nearly 850,000 jobs and nearly $48.6 billion (in salaries and wages) can be directly attributed to the healthcare industry.  Healthcare facilities in the State of Florida are also responsible for nearly $115 billion in revenue.  “Uncompensated care costs” are estimated to be in the $2.4 billion range, a figure that is significant because it represents a type of “hidden tax” that each citizen of the State of Florida is helping to pay for. These figures help highlight the need to better understand the healthcare industry’s immediate impact to our city.

lt-day-1Our healthcare day kicked off at one of Tampa’s newest Healthcare facilities.  Interestingly enough, the facility is slated to be operated by one of Tampa’s oldest and most prestigious healthcare institutions: Tampa General Hospital (TGH).  Mark Anderson, Senior VP of Ambulatory Services was kind enough to kick off the day by introducing us to their newest care center and by discussing TGH’s role in our community.  TGH has the region’s only level one trauma center, is the primary “teaching hospital” in the region, and the Consumer’s Choice winner for eleven consecutive years.  However, the focus this morning was the introduction of the Brandon HealthPlex which marks TGH’s foray into the realm of Ambulatory Care Services closer to the outskirts of a region they’ve been serving for decades.  The HealthPlex was conceived, as Mark explained, to provide convenient, cost effective and comprehensive services to a growing healthcare market.   The building itself lt-day-2is a four story, 130,000 square foot facility which is scheduled to open in February of 2017.  The facility, offering a variety of primary care, ambulatory surgery, imaging and pharmacy services (just to name a few) will support TGH’s commitment to expand outpatient care services “closer to areas where patients live and work.”  Not only did we talk about the HealthPlex, but we had the unique opportunity to tour portions of the facility ahead of its grand opening.   The tour included a behind-the-scenes look of the Emergency Department and the Ambulatory Surgery Center.  The tour also included a hand washing demonstration which highlighted the right way to conduct one of the simplest, but most effective, ways to prevent the transfer of infection in a health care setting.

The tour of the HealthPlex was followed by a lively panel discussion which focused on emerging innovations to reduce health care costs.   The panel was composed of experts in the field as well as executives and doctors representing various local institutions.  One of the issues that the discussion highlighted is the way that out of control costs can undermine the ability of facilities to provide better quality of care.  The conversation covered a wide range of subject matter from reducing unit costs for medications and procedures to developing new solutions to increase efficiency and help drive cost down.  The conversation also included discussions on how policy and regulatory considerations, the primary being the Affordable Care Act, help to drive the development of innovation down the line.  This conversation was certainly an eye opening look at just one of the myriad of considerations that healthcare providers must grapple

Our next stop was Moffitt Cancer Center.  Moffitt is Florida’s only National Cancer
Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of only 47 throughout the U.S.  It is also ranked No. 6 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals for Cancer rankings.  Moffitt employs over 5,200 people with three outpatient facilities and 206 inpatient beds in Tampa.

lt-day-4After receiving inspiring introductions to Moffitt by both Dr. Dana Rollinson (LT’16), Chief Data Officer and Dr. Tom Sellers, Center Director, we separated into two groups.  Our group first participated in a fantastic discussion with Dr Eric Haura, Co-Program Leader of Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine, regarding precision diagnosis and therapy for cancer care.  The tremendous innovation in molecular mapping has enabled cancer specialists to identify which medications and doses will be most effective, driving personalized treatments for patients that improve their likelihood of treatment success and minimize unnecessary side

Following this discussion, our group excitedly made its way to the “Ritz Carlton of Mouse
Facilities”.  Moffitt is home to a 28,000 square foot vivarium that holds over 30,000 mice and includes a full suite of miniaturized scanning machinery (x-ray, MRI, CT, etc.).  There we were met by Dr. Robert Engelman, the Director of Comparative Medicine, who, after we donned protective gear and air-showered into the vivarium, gave us a fascinating tour punctuated with important historical and medical facts that helped us understand the tremendous importance of mice in medical research. And, if you think mice are very cheap, their most expensive mice cost $26,000!

After the stimulating discussions and tours, we were treated to a delicious lunch while participating in a simultaneously invigorating and heartbreaking panel that discussed caring for the most vulnerable populations.  This panel included some incredible people who lead organizations that care for vulnerable and under-served individuals as well as, with great impact, a patient who found herself struggling through the current system with very limited resources and access to care.  Our key takeaways here were:  that access to care, particularly mental health care, remains a major challenge, despite gains made as a
result of the Affordable Care Act, and that there are tremendous opportunities for efficiencies that currently are overlooked due to the complex nature of healthcare
payment systems.  I left in awe of both the leaders who serve our Tampa Bay community lt-day-6selflessly to enable those needing care to receive it, and of the patients who have to struggle to receive the care they need on a timely basis.  As an aside, the issue of mental / behavioral health was highlighted to us previously at Law Enforcement Day, and I took from both of these LT days that we need to focus as a society much more on de-stigmatizing mental illness and becoming more proactive to address mental and behavioral health issues.

Our final stop was a healthcare facility that’s been a part of the Tampa community since 1934.  St. Joseph’s Hospital (SJH), a place “where care never stops,” contributes significantly to both the delivery of care within our City limits and also to our City’s economy.  Take for example the fact that, at just one campus, the hospital operates three very distinct facilities: St Joes Hospital, SJH Children’s Hospital and St Joe’s Women’s Hospital.  These facilities, along with other sister facilities, contribute an economic output of nearly $1.3 billion to the State.  St. Joseph’s Hospital alone had a total of over 50,000 admissions and performed in excess of 28,000 surgeries last year, ranking “high” in five adult procedure categories (U.S. News) and second overall in the Tampa Metro area (U.S. News).  These figures and data make it clear why St Joe’s was picked as one of only three stops on our healthcare program day.

lt-day-7Our visit to St Joe’s was kicked off by Kimberly Guy, who is the President to both St. Joseph’s Hospital as well as St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. Kimberly was gracious enough to share with us parts of her inspirational professional journey from a time prior to her starting with St Joe’s in 2005 to current day as of the organization.  Her message to us was simple, encouraging and powerful:  don’t be afraid to take on more professional responsibility and get involved in the community you live in.

Our conversation with Kimberly was a perfect
segue to the class splitting up into groups to tour several departments.  I found the Imaging department to be one of the most fascinating, in part because of the unique nature of the equipment used within this department, but also because of what the technicians are able to do with the equipment.  Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic lt-day-8Resonance Imaging (MRI) represent two of the most significant ways through which technicians can provide surgeons with detailed internal images ahead of surgical procedures as well as during surgical procedures with the “hybrid OR” being a perfect example of the latter.  Our tour of SJH Hybrid OR, one of only a handful in the State of Florida, focused on exposing us to how surgeons are now uniquely able to perform imaging procedures within the confines of an Operating Room setting.  Our tour also included a look into the SJHS dedicated 3D Imaging Suite which focuses on gathering the information collected via various pieces of imaging equipment to create more detailed three-dimensional models that can then be manipulated to provide practitioners views unimaginable prior to the advent of this technology.  The experience can be described as nothing less than mind-blowing.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And such was the case with the LT 17’s Healthcare Day.  The day concluded with a quick debrief where we were able to share, as a group, the unique perspectives and experiences gained throughout the day.  Undoubtedly, we all took away a great deal from the day but, most of all, we gained a better understanding of the challenges faced by some of the most prominent healthcare facilities our great city has to offer.


LT 2017: Media Day

hawker-nicoleBy Nicole Hawker, Vistra Communications

The fifth program day of our Leadership Tampa 2017 journey, Media Day, was made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Tampa Bay Times. Our program chairs for the day, Scot Kaufman (LT ‘09), Media Sales Manager, WUSF Pubic Media; Dawn Philips (LT ’14), Senior Advertising Manager, Tampa Bay Times; and JoAnn Urofsky (LT ’00), General Manager, WUSF Public Media, were gracious hosts. They organized a fulfilling and engaging program, and set up #MediaDay on Twitter for classmates to tweet thoughts throughout the day.media1


Christopher Rogers ‏‪@csdrogers Nov 16

Thank you to ‪@TB_Times for sponsoring ‪#LT17 ‪#MediaDay & fellow ‪@Tampa_Chamber Board member Bruce Faulmann for rousing kickoff!


Media Day provided insight into the changing media landscape, specifically addressing how media impacted the most recent presidential election. We visited and were engaged by organizations that represent the major mediums that push news, including newspaper, television, radio and social.

We began the day in downtown Tampa at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Skanska Room with a light breakfast to get us energized for everything that was to come. Bruce Faulmann (LT ’03), Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Tampa Bay Times, provided a brief introduction on the state of media today and how it is evolving in a time of change. Three key points he made on the state of the media today include: it is a crucial element in our country’s founding, it provides an opinion on where the country should go, and it’s role is to influence opinion.


Our first speaker of the day was Joey Baird, Senior Director, Digital Marketing, Sparxzoo. As brand leaders and digital trendsetters, Sparxzoo fuses branding and marketing to help businesses and organizations market themselves through online platforms.

Joey presented on the age of “always on digital media” and the world we live in today. His focus was on how digital media affects us in general and how it affected the most recent presidential election. He also provided some interesting predictions on how digital media will affect future elections. He said we’ll see an increase in negative campaigning, more people will say things on social media they wouldn’t say in person and email hacking will continue to grow.

WUSF Public Media

Our next stop of the morning was on the University of South Florida campus at WUSF Public Media. Founded in 1963, WUSF offers a variety of programming on television, radio, and online, as well as curriculum-based programming in Title One schools throughout the Tampa Bay region. With four TV stations – WUSF TV, WUSF Create, WUSF Knowledge and WUSF Kids – viewers experience a variety of PBS and other programming that focuses on public affairs, science, nature, travel, drama and kids. Radio listeners have the option of tuning in to WUSF 89.7, west central Florida’s NPR station or Classical WSMR, 89.1 and media2.jpg103.9, which is devoted to classical music.

WUSF Public Media also produces a weekly radio show, Florida Matters, which tackles tough issues, highlights little-known stories about Florida, and provides a greater perspective on what it means to live in the Sunshine State. The weekly show explores issues that are most important to Floridians and covers challenges that face our state. Our class was honored to witness the taping of Florida Matters: Social Media, ‘Fake News’ And Politics. Guests panelists Peter Schorsch, Publisher of SaintPetersblog and Sunburn, Josh Gillin of Politifact Florida, and USF Communications Professor Kelli Burns, sat down with WUSF Host Carson Cooper to discuss how the 2016 presidential election was affected by social media, fake news and fact checking.


Glenn Zimmerman ‏‪@GlennZimmerman Nov 16

“Anyone who makes an all or nothing statement, be wary” ‪@jpgillin ‪#MediaDay ‪#medialiteracy ‪@Tampa_Chamber ‪@wusf


Class members Ray Wong, Gresham, Smith and Partners; Maggie McCleland, Academy Prep Center of Tampa; Ethan Shipiro, Hill Ward Henderson, PA; Dean Rustin, Bisk Education, Inc.; Krsiti Tozer, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo; Ryan Garlow, 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill AFB; Calvin Williams, University of South Florida; Glenn Zimmerman, MadBear Productions; and Randall Woods, Florida Blue were brave enough to ask the panelists challenging questions during the audience engagement portion of the show.


Maggie ‏‪@maggiemccleland Nov 16

Tampa, FL

Learning about fake news sites, the 2016 election & discussing ammunition vs information during ‪#mediaday ‪#lt17 ‪@wusf ‪@FloridaMatters


media3An interesting tidbit from Peter Schorsch – he said, “Political candidates are selling an idea and vision. If you are searching for facts in politics, you will never find it.” A key thought into the state of our political climate today and the challenges media outlets face when covering politics.

Florida Matters: Social Media, ‘Fake News” And Politics was produced by Robin Sussingham.  The show aired on WUSF 89.7 on Tuesday, November 22 and is available to stream online at

After the taping of Florida Matters, we broke into groups and participated in various media exercises, including mock radio newscasts and television segments.


media4Next we headed back downtown to WFLA, Tampa’s NBC affiliate television broadcast station. We were greeted by Andy Alford, President & General Manager, WFLA, News Channel 8 & WTTA, Great 38 and Bill Berra, Vice President, News, WFLA, and were given a brief overview of the station during lunch.  As a part of this community for 60 years, WFLA’s first broadcast was of the Gasparilla Parade. The station now produces more than 60 hours a week of locally-produced content, including shows such as Daytime, exclusive coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and news.

During the recent political season, WFLA provided local coverage of rallies and local elections, as well as broadcast the national debates and conventions. Financially, this time of year is significant for television stations, as ad revenue for WFLA topped more than $70 million.

media5As the 11th largest market in the country, WFLA faces many challenges as to how they cover politics in the future. It is common for people to think television news outlets have an agenda, which they say they don’t. And anticipating the sensitivities on the way they cover politics now that the election is over is important. With the industry changing so much, WFLA is focused on serving the local community through a multi-platform approach for both editorial and advertising.

After the presentation by Mr. Alford and Mr. Berra, we were given a tour of the News and Daytime sets. We had the privilege of meeting Daytime hosts Jerry Penacolic and Cyndi Edwards.media6

 Tampa Bay Times

We ended the day at the Tampa Bay Times. Joe Deluca, Vice President and Publisher, Tampa Bay Times, provided an interesting overview of the future of newspapers in an ever changing media environment. As a publisher he sees many challenges the newspaper industry is facing. He conveyed the perception that newspapers are a dying industry and said that is self-inflicted.  After review of several statistics on the newspaper industry and readership numbers during the past two decades, it was presented that the decline is not about the product. It is about the way it is being delivered. Journalism is still as important as ever, but technology has changed the behavior of consumers.  In order to overcome these challenges, the newspaper industry must understand the product and its value, and provide locally relevant news, high caliber journalism and locally relevant advertising, while continuing to build a portfolio of distribution channels that make sense for the consumer.

We then had the privilege of witnessing Sue Carlton, Columnist, Tampa Bay Times, interview Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO, Times Publishing Company. Mr. Tash answered questions that were submitted by members of the class. He discussed the acquisition of the Tampa Tribune and the opportunities and surprises that have come from it. He also discussed the election coverage and the Times’ approach to balance.

And last but not least, Ernest Hooper (LT ’03), East Hillsborough County Bureau Chief & Columnist, Tampa Bay Times, took our class through “The Front Page Exercise”. We broke into groups and were tasked with determining the headlines for the Tampa Bay Times 1A and 1B sections for next edition. We were provided a list of headlines to choose from, and were interrupted throughout the session with breaking news items or additional information on stories we were already aware. The exercise was helpful in better understanding how the newsroom makes editorial decisions every day.


LT 2017: Arts & Culture Day

holmes-mirayBy Miray Holmes, City of Tampa

The fourth program of our Leadership Tampa ’17 adventure, Arts & Culture Day, was generously sponsored by the law firm of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen. Our gracious chairs for the day who kept us on time and informed were Jeff Gibson (LT’13), Partner, Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen & Jim Porter (LT’99 & LT’15 Chair), Partner, acday1Adams and Reese. The Arts and Culture Day program provided a behind the scenes look at the breadth and scope of the creative industries in Tampa. While the economic impact in spending, jobs and events can be measured, the arts contribution to the heart, soul and fabric of the city, county and region cannot be quantified.

Our first stop was the Graphicstudio, Institute for Research in Arts at the University of South Florida. The USF Institute for Research in Art is the umbrella organization for Graphicstudio, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Public Art program. Many of us were experiencing for the first time this unique experiment in art and education, one of only three in the country, including the University of New Mexico and the University of Wisconsin. Through the art on display, we were able to view the Institute’s philosophy of providing artists with the freedom to experiment and pursue innovative directions to advance their creative discipline.

The dynamic Director Margaret A. Miller graciously rearranged her schedule to join us and acday2provided the history and unique collaborative model the Institute has created which serves students, faculty, visiting artists and the Research Partners. Margaret explained the business model of the Institute and how the Research Partners Programs allows participants to collect significant art while supporting research and education commitments. Some of the leading museums and collectors including the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Public Library and the Centre Pompidou in Paris continue to acquire Graphicstudio editions.

We viewed a variety of works of art that used traditional and experimental printmaking techniques, bronze casting, wood, stainless steel, digital output of film, dead insects (yes insects!) and other pioneering mixed media materials. Research Associate/Printer Tim Baker demonstrated the intricate printmaking process. In addition to the exhibitions, collection development, publication of limited edition graphics and sculpture, multiples and commissioned public art works, the Institute also hosts lectures, workshops and special events designed to bring an awareness about the role of contemporary artists in shaping our culture and society.

Our next stop of the morning was the iconic City of Tampa landmark, the Tampa Theatre. acday4The magnificent Tampa Theatre was designed and built by John Eberson, one of the most internationally renowned and prolific movie palace designers of his time, responsible for building about 100 theaters all over the world including works that still survive in Miami, Chicago, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Texas, Paris, France and Sydney, Australia. The Tampa Theatre opened October 15, 1926 to immense anticipation and was enormously popular.

Our host and guide was Tampa Theatre President and CEO John Bell. John came to Tampa from North Carolina where he managed the historic Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, NC. John spoke with knowledge and passion about the history and significance of the Tampa Theatre. Sitting the in the red velvet seats, we were transported back to 1926 when the lavish downtown movie palace opened allowing common citizens for the first time in history access to opulence on a scale never before imagined. For 25 cents people could escape into a fantasyland for two hours, enjoy first-class entertainment and be treated like royalty by uniformed platoons of ushers and attendants. The Tampa Theatre remained a jewel at the center of Tampa’s cultural landscape for several decades allowing generations of people who stole their first kiss in the balcony to follow the world through the newsreels and grow up coming to the Theatre week after week.

But by the 1960s, times had changed. America’s flight to the suburbs was having a damaging effect on downtown businesses, and among the hardest hit were the movie palaces that lit up America’s main streets, especially with the advent of television. Audiences dwindled and costs rose. Many of our nation’s finest movie palaces were demolished as the land beneath them became more valuable than the theater’s operations and in 1973 the Tampa Theatre faced the same fate. But Tampa’s citizens rallied, committees were formed and community leaders got involved, leading to a deal for the City to rescue the Theatre. By the time the Theatre reopened to the public in January 1977, it had become something of a national model on how to save an endangered theater. Tampa Theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

acday3 The Theatre is managed by the not-for-profit Tampa Theatre Foundation and is one of the most heavily utilized venues of its kind in the United States. Tampa Theatre’s single auditorium hosts more than 600 events each year, including a full schedule of first-run and classic films, concerts, special events, corporate events, tours and educational programs. Since its rescue in 1977, more than 5 million visitors to downtown Tampa, including 1 million school children for field trips and summer camps, have visited this passionately protected and beloved community landmark. The theatre is currently embarking on an $11 million capital campaign to renovate the seating throughout the theatre.

The award-winning Tampa Museum of Art was the next stop on our tour and one of the newest buildings complimenting the Tampa arts and culture landscape. We first had a delicious lunch at Sono Café, operated by the iconic Mise en Place, on the Museum’s expansive, covered terrace with an unparalleled view of the University of Tampa Minarets, Curtis Hixon Park and the downtown skyline overlooking the banks of the Hillsborough River.

The Tampa Bay Art Center (founded in 1923) and the Tampa Junior Museum (founded in acday61958) served Tampa’s cultural needs until 1964. At that time the City of Tampa requested that the Arts Council of Tampa/Hillsborough County, in consultation with community arts organizations, develop a plan for a City art museum to be built with funding from a bond issue. The following year, the plan was approved and began to materialize under a newly created private/public partnership with the City of Tampa known as the Tampa Museum Federation. The Federation was the genesis of what is now the Tampa Museum of Art. In 1979, the new art museum opened and operated in downtown Tampa on a riverfront site behind the Convention Center for 8 years until it relocated to West Tampa in 1987. To prepare for construction of a new museum facility in downtown Tampa, the Museum relocated to an interim facility in West Tampa in December of 2007. Construction began in April 2008 and the new Museum opened on February 6, 2010 with a commitment to providing innovative public programs with a strong focus on antiquities and modern and contemporary art.

Dr. Michael A. Tomor, the Museums Executive Director since April of 2015 initially addressed the group in the expansive lobby. Dr. Tomor came to Tampa from the El Paso Museum of Art and prior to that, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Dr. Tomor described how the Museum balances a growing collection with a dynamic annual schedule of special exhibitions that bring the world’s finest visual arts to the region. The Tampa Museum of Art, Inc., a private IRS 501(c)(3) entity, owns the permanent collection. The City of Tampa owns the museum building and provides a grant for partial operational support. Through its Board of Trustees, the Museum is responsible for all operational policies and procedures, as well as for funding for the collection, exhibitions, education programs, and staffing. Dr. Tomor has implemented free general admission to all university, college, and higher education students. He has also created Connections, a community engagement program for those experiencing depression, dementia, and trauma, in partnership with the University of South Florida Honors College.

The building was designed with clean lines and tall white walls that allow the art to stand out and not compete with its surroundings. The exhibitions we toured with the curators were:

  • Complicated Beauty: Contemporary Cuban Art is the Museum’s first survey of contemporary Cuban art from the 1970s to the present, reflecting a cross-generational look at recent trends in Cuban art.
  • Manuel Carrillo: Mi Querido Mexico (My Beloved Mexico) is an exhibit by Manuel Carrillo (Mexican, 1906-1989), known as “El Maestro Mexicano,” and is a collection of intimate black and white photographic images of workers, the elderly, and families in his native Mexico.
  • Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum which propose reframing American folk art through the concept of “self-taught genius,” as an elastic and enduring notion whose meaning has evolved over time.

A short walk away was our next the stop, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts venue which anchors the downtown cultural stretch along the Hillsborough River that includes the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts.

We gathered in the Jaeb Theater, one of the smaller of the five theaters within the world-class David Straz Center complex. Judith Lisi, the President and Chief Executive Officer joined us in the theater. Judith is an accomplished theater producer, director and playwright whose deep theater roots began at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music as well as the Metropolitan Opera, Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut and the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, Connecticut.

Judith described the evolution of the humble beginnings on an abandoned gravel lot in a city that was lacking cultural offerings to the Straz Center of today, the largest performing arts center in the Southeast and the only one with an on-site performing arts conservatory and the first in the state of Florida with multiple venues.

Florida Governor Bob Martinez laid the groundwork for the center when he was Tampa Mayor from 1979 to 1986. Mayor Martinez campaigned on building a performing arts center and didn’t want a city-run facility but rather a nonprofit board to oversee it. Martinez was passionate about offering the hundreds of kids that don’t play sports an opportunity to experience the fine arts.

While it was slow getting started, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts was incorporated in 1980. Although Martinez resigned in 1986 to make a successful run for governor, Tampa’s next mayor, Sandy Freedman, continued the support for the center, which opened the following year on September 12, 1987 as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

With an annual $110 million economic impact, more than 2,200 events per year, a loyal base of patrons and season ticket holders and 600,000 patrons annually, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has become a major cultural asset for Tampa. Since its opening, more than 12 million patrons have walked through its doors and thousands of performers — actors, musicians, singers, dancers and comedians — have stood on its stages. Theater goers have enjoyed performances ranging from Broadway productions such as of Jersey Boys, Lion King, Wicked and Flashdance, to performances by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, the classic opera “La Bohème” and the musical group The Carolina Chocolate Drops.

We had an opportunity to tour the 2,6100seat Carol Morsani Hall and the three-story, 45,000 square-foot Patel Conservatory. The Conservatory sits at the north end of the Center offering more than 100 performing arts classes in dance, theater and music for students of all ages and experience levels. The Patel Conservatory provides the finest performing arts training in an inspirational setting by giving students the tools to dream, reach, discover and create the performing arts; integrate them into everyday life; and contribute to the community.

acday12The last stop of the day was StageWorks Theatre. A theatre that while small in its stage stature, is large in its mission to showcase socially conscious theater. StagewWorks is nestled in the courtyard among a complex of beautiful gleaming hi-rise condos known as Grand Central. This one-of-kind theater is the bridge from the Straz Center to Ybor City’s vibrant arts scene and a gathering place for Channel District residents. The co-developers of Grand Central at Kennedy, who kindly lease the space to Stage Works for $10 a year, are Ken Stoltenberg and Frank Bombeeck.

StageWorks founding Artistic director was Anna Brennen, whose career accomplishments have included actor, director and all things related to building and sustaining an up-and-coming theater. Anyone who’s met Brennen or worked with her — actors, colleagues, students, critics, donors, developers, subscribers, even construction workers — describe her as a bit larger than life. Brennan was able to keep a theater company going for 28 years without a home of its own, including the seven years it took to plan, build and fundraise for the $1.2 million, 8,000-square-foot Channel District space.

We were educated and entertained by StageWorks’ exuberant Producing Artistic Director/Technical Director/Jill-of-all trades, Karla Hartley. Karla received a BFA in Theater Studies from Boston University and is the owner of three Theatre Tampa Bay awards for Best Director. She also directed the inaugural show, the David Friedman musical revue, Listen to My Heart, when StageWorks opened in its current location in 2011. She was named Best Director 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015 in the Creative Loafing Best of the Bay Awards as well as The Artist Most Likely to Have Been Born on the Planet Krypton. We all understood why after spending just 20 minutes with her. Karla works alongside an eight-member board, 5 full-time staff, six part-time staff, 168 artists and over 100 volunteers.

Karla passionately lives and breathes the StageWorks mission: “We provide the highest quality professional theater that respects, ignites and celebrates the human spirit while challenging the thresholds of intolerance and sensitivity”. StageWorks is renowned in the theatre community for it’s commitment to offering a home for diverse at risk youth to learn and ‘do’ theater, while being sanctuary for artists to congregate, create and perform. Over 20,000 people annually experience performances that give voice to those marginalized by circumstance and explore the cultural tension inherent in living in a multi-cultural society that is still struggling with painful legacies of racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.