Friday, June 22, 2018
Business

After pressure from House speaker, Visit Tampa Bay turns over financial details

TAMPA — After a lawsuit threat from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Visit Tampa Bay released records Wednesday that showed the organization gave out $295,000 in bonuses last year, including $66,000 to its top executive.

The disclosure was the first glimpse into financial information that Visit Tampa Bay has long insisted is private, even though the nonprofit organization's budget is largely paid for with Hillsborough County taxes.

"Lets just get it out there," president and CEO Santiago Corrada told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "There's nothing to hide. We just want to put it to rest."

Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has promised to slash government spending on tourism marketing and business incentives, infuriating Gov. Rick Scott, who says they are critical to Florida's economy. Those efforts heated up Wednesday as a House committee voted to eliminate Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, brushing aside concerns raised by businesses and tourism groups.

As part of his push, Corcoran last month requested details on how 13 county governments spend tourist development taxes, which are collected on every dollar spent at hotels, motels and other short-term rental businesses. The information requested included a list of employees and salaries and a breakdown on how much is spent on food and lodging in the name of tourism marketing.

The speaker's office said Hills­borough County's initial submission was incomplete because it did not include enough information about Visit Tampa Bay's spending. Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday that he would sue the organization if it refused to turn that information over.

In a letter to Corrada last week, Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, gave Visit Tampa Bay until Wednesday to comply. The agency met the deadline, sending hundreds of pages to Tallahassee and the media.

Included were 2016 totals for how much Visit Tampa Bay spent on advertising ($4.7 million), how much it pays its lobbyist ($28,000) and how much it spent on travel ($111,518 on 205 sales and marketing trips).

In addition to the $12.5 million it received last year from Hillsborough County, Visit Tampa Bay also generated $2.5 million in private revenue. Its attempts to boost its own budget with fundraising events, however, were not always successful. A golf tournament that cost $59,000 to put on actually lost $300, according to the disclosures.

While Visit Tampa Bay has reported the salaries of its top executives in federal tax filings, the disclosure Wednesday was the first time the agency has provided salary and bonus information for all of its employees. Visit Tampa Bay maintains that information should have remained secret but agreed to provide it anyway.

In all, personnel costs totaled $4.8 million last year.

"We pay quality people to do a quality job," Corrada said.

Corrada made $272,000 in base salary last year, plus the $66,000 bonus. That's up from a total of $164,000 in 2014.

His salary is benchmarked against similar tourism marketing organizations, Corrada said, and his bonus is based on meeting certain accomplishments set by a board of directors.

"If I wasn't doing the job I was doing and I didn't merit that, I wouldn't be doing the job I do today," Corrada said. "I'm expected to be a leader that's an economic engine for the region."

Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Corcoran, confirmed the speaker's office received Visit Tampa Bay's response, calling the documents "voluminous."

"The House believes in transparency and accountability," Corcoran said in a statement provided by Piccolo. "Today was a victory for both principles. This disclosure is another step in the right direction in cleaning up Tallahassee and reminding those who fancy themselves above the rest that this is the people's House."

If Corcoran is to eliminate government spending on local tourism marketing, he will have to change state law, which has strict rules for how counties can spend tourism development taxes collected from hotels. One of the approved uses is tourism marketing, which defenders say helps draw visitors to the state.

Hillsborough collected $30 million in tourist development taxes during fiscal year 2016.

Taxing visitors to pay for tourism marketing "was the genesis of the tax," Corrada said. "I wasn't around when it was created. I'm just hired to do a service for the county."

Times staff writer Justine Griffin contributed to this report. Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

   
Comments
Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

The biggest hospitals in Houston had a problem.To earn a prized institutional certification, they needed more nurses with bachelor of science degrees in nursing.But local colleges were more focused on turning out nurses with two-year degrees who, to ...
Published: 06/22/18
Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

Health care IT company CareSync shuts down, laying off 292

TAMPA — The days ahead were supposed to be bright.For weeks, the future of health care tech company CareSync had been thrown into question as founder and CEO and founder Travis Bond unexpectedly departed, kicking off multiple rounds of layoffs. But t...
Published: 06/22/18
Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Here’s an intriguing set of facts: Coal produces the same percentage of the world’s electricity as 20 years ago. Oil and gas remain about level, too.Same for nonfossil fuel sources. In other words, the massive push towards renewables over the past co...
Published: 06/22/18
Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

Brink: Why have Florida’s working-age men left the labor market in droves

A cancer lurks within Florida’s otherwise rosy job numbers, one that’s been called a quiet catastrophe and an intractable time bomb.Too many men between the ages of 25 and 54 have stopped working.Economists call those the prime-age years. Incomes gen...
Published: 06/22/18
Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

Pride divided no more: St. Pete Pride comes back together

ST. PETERSBURG — The 16th annual St. Pete Pride Parade is getting ready to march along the downtown waterfront the second straight year. But many hope to move past the division caused last year when the parade was uprooted from its original hom...
Published: 06/22/18
For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

For sale: A Tampa Bay area elementary school where you can eat tacos and buy wine

ST. PETERSBURG — For sale: a 104-year-old elementary school with restaurant and wine shop. It even has a title company where you can close the deal.Less than a year after completing a major renovation of the historic North Ward school, developer Jona...
Published: 06/22/18
Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

TAMPA — When the 2008 financial crash brought down the nation’s housing market, hundreds of home builders went out of business. Among them was Sharon McSwain Homes in Atlanta, forced to liquidate in 2009.But just as developers like to develop, builde...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

TAMPA — Two of the city’s hottest developers — the companies behind Ulele and the Armature Works — are heading to court over control of an old city building that sits between the hit eateries. Both want to redevelop the city&...
Published: 06/21/18
Orlando airport first to scan faces of U.S. citizens on international flights

Orlando airport first to scan faces of U.S. citizens on international flights

Associated PressFlorida’s busiest airport is becoming the first in the nation to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights, including U.S. citizens, according to officials there. The expected announcement T...
Published: 06/21/18
Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Saboteur or whistleblower? Battle between Elon Musk and former Tesla employee turns ugly, exposing internal rancor

Hours after Tesla had sued its former employee on charges he had stolen company secrets, and days after chief Elon Musk had called him a saboteur, the Silicon Valley automaker made a startling claim. The company had received a call from a friend of t...
Published: 06/21/18