As the Tampa Convention Center’s convention and tourism director, what is your role in bringing conventions and large events to the city?
Tampa Convention Center plays a major role in economic development for the region; it was and remains to be a stimulant to growth and development in downtown Tampa. My role is to work closely with Visit Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association and the Sports Commission to bring regional, national, international conventions, exhibits and sporting events to the area. We also work with our local hotel partners assisting and providing meeting rooms during need periods. Welcoming events into our city and showcasing our venue and the surrounding offerings for clients and visitors is something that I am extremely passionate about. One role that is as important, if not more so, in bringing conventions and large events to the city is ensuring that we are providing services that leave a positive and lasting impression on everyone that visits. I am so very fortunate to have a team of consummate professionals to work beside every day that understand the mission and the vision and put every effort towards achieving successful shows.
How has Tampa’s convention business changed as the city has grown in recent years, and how do you foresee it changing with the explosion of growth around the TCC?
Having been at the opening ceremony of the center in 1990, I have seen mega changes beyond anything I ever imagined in all those years. Once the Marriott Water Street opened in 2000, Tampa began to be recognized as a destination worthy of consideration to much larger, high-profile events like the NFL Super Bowls, the 2012 Republican National Convention and the upcoming 2020 WWE WrestleMania. Since that time we have seen and continue to witness developmental interest in and around the Convention Center, along the Tampa Riverwalk as far north as Armature Works and south to Sparkman Wharf and the rising Water Street entertainment complex. We have had leadership within the city of Tampa in the past 40 years who possess(ed) tremendous visions that have grown our city while building upon Tampa’s great history and the beautiful waterfront. I am excited about the center’s continued role in the synergy that is being created all around us.
The convention center is undergoing some pretty big changes itself. What is still to come in the capital improvements plan?
We have certainly been busy the past two years with the development of two new signature restaurants on our property: Harpoon Harry’s and Big Ray’s Fish Camp at the Sail Plaza. We have completely expanded our waterfront dining experiences and just this month opened a satellite Datz deli on our property for conventioneers. There are current plans in consideration to expand the center’s offerings with additional amenities that will keep us competitive. In addition to building upon the venue offerings to our clients and visitors, we also continue to evaluate our performance to mirror Mayor Castor’s Sustainability Resilience Initiatives — rebuilding some of our facility infrastructures that keep the building running smoothly while living up to our motto, “Creating Quality Guest Experiences.”
When you leave work for the day, where do you go downtown for a great dinner, and what are you ordering?
That’s a tricky question. When I do dine downtown, depending on the weather, I have to be honest, I either go to Harpoon Harry’s and get their grilled salmon and fresh vegetables or to Big Ray’s for grouper nuggets. Malio’s has one of the best happy hours in town, so if I’m in the mood to walk the Riverwalk, Malio’s is definitely worth the adventure. Any of these entities topped off with a nice glass of good wine is a fantastic end to what can be very long days.
Where do you take guests from out of town to show off Tampa?
There are so many places to go, so depending on what everyone is in the mood for, we can jump on the Pirate Water Taxi and explore the river, put on our running shoes and pound the Riverwalk, hop on the complimentary trolley and visit the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Bay History Center, or create our own history in Ybor City. There are so many art museums that are within two blocks of one another…..It’s endless and it’s ours!
Where is your favorite place in Tampa for a drink, and what are you ordering?
The only place I typically order something different than a glass of wine is when I visit The Sail. With its 360-degree waterfront restaurant and bar, it is hard to resist imbibing on their “Island Therapy” of spiced rum, pineapple, coconut and nutmeg while listening to some great music and watching all of the activities occurring at our Marina.
Other than the Tampa Convention Center, where is your favorite place in Tampa or the Bay area to attend an event, and why?
I personally love to walk into the beautiful Marriott Water Street Hotel. The Marriott has done a fantastic job of renovating their property that stimulates the entire hospitality community to grow, change and create experiences for all of our visitors that not only makes everyone talk about what a great community we are, but want to come back again and again. There has been a resurgence throughout the local hospitality market to be better, bigger, brighter and bolder and more inclusive.
What is your favorite Tampa hidden gem?
I absolutely enjoy history so while it is not a hidden gem, I’d have to say that Old City Hall with its iconic green clock tower holds the key to where we came from and sits right in the hub of the downtown business district. While big, modern towers go up all around it, it still holds a romantic charm of yesteryears and reminds us that since 1849 we’ve gotten a lot accomplished. I can only imagine what Tampa will look like as we travel down this road to tomorrow.
In the spirit of the Cross-Bay Ferry returning to the Tampa Convention Center marina, where is your favorite place to visit across the bay in St. Petersburg?
Tampa Convention Center is excited about the opportunity to welcome our neighbors from across the bay and to share our beautiful waterways with our visitors. I anticipate that as the ferry arrives dockside in Downtown St. Petersburg, everyone will really enjoy strolling along Beach Drive with its charming cafes and eateries, watching the boats sail into the marina or anchor in the harbor while we enjoy some wonderful food or hit DeSanto’s Rooftop restaurant.