TAMPA — Santiago Corrada is one of Tampa City Hall's most respected public servants. The mayor's chief of staff has a resume that reads like a list of the city's greatest hits: the Republican National Convention, Super Bowl XLIII and Gasparilla.
He's Tampa's go-to guy. Now he'll be its top salesman.
Corrada was named Tuesday as the new president and CEO of Tampa Bay & Co., the publicly funded, privately run tourism agency that books the Tampa Convention Center and markets the city and Hillsborough County to the world.
Corrada got the call from Jim Dean, the chairman of Tampa Bay & Co.'s board of directors, and visited the downtown offices Tuesday to address the staff.
"I told them that I was there to work hard with them," he said, "to brand our market, our destination, and to sell, sell, sell and sell.
"We have a big responsibility and we need to carry out that responsibility. We are a huge economic driver for our community and I have a plan to take us to the next level. I wanted to make sure I got their attention, and their buy-in, to get us to that place."
Corrada, 49, started as an educator in Miami, then joined city government. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami in 1986 and earned a master's degree in 1991. He was the popular principal of one of Miami's toughest high schools before taking over the city's parks.
In 2004, he moved to Tampa's City Hall and has served under two mayors. He was the city's point man on the controversial development of the Tampa Museum of Art and its main liaison to Lowry Park Zoo during a turbulent period. He also helped plan Super Bowl XLIII and the RNC, cleaned up Gasparilla and ran the convention center. Both mayors sang his praises.
"Santiago has served the city of Tampa for almost nine years in a number of different roles, and he has excelled in every capacity," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement. "For an adopted son of Tampa, he has given this city his all. I am confident that he will do a great job for Tampa Bay & Co."
"He's just the absolutely perfect choice for the agency," said former Mayor Pam Iorio, who hired Corrada from Miami.
Dean said Corrada was selected after a national search that drew 135 applicants from 21 states and Switzerland. A search committee narrowed the list to four, then last week nominated Corrada as its top choice to Tampa Bay & Co.'s 15-member executive committee. The executive committee confirmed his nomination Tuesday.
"We think that Santiago is a deal-closer, that he can get some things going for our destination," Dean said. "Clearly we have great assets and we think he'll be a great champion for our destination, not just across the country, but also the world."
Tampa Bay & Co. is a $10 million nonprofit that gets 80 percent of its funding from the county's tourist development tax. It has more than three dozen directors, most from the private sector.
But though it receives public money, the agency did not disclose the names of the other three finalists selected along with Corrada. All Dean would say is that two were local.
The agency also didn't disclose the finalists in 2011 when it selected Kelly Miller to be CEO. He left last year after just 11 months on the job.
Tampa Bay & Co. did, however, disclose Corrada's salary: $210,000. Miller made $214,000 and his predecessor, Paul Catoe, made $316,000 in 2010. Corrada earns $153,000 with the city and is expected to take over the tourism agency in May.
Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern endorsed the selection of Corrada. But she thinks that as a publicly funded agency, Tampa Bay & Co. should go through an open hiring process. Tuesday's voting was not announced beforehand, and executive committee meetings are not open to the public.
But Dean, who is on both the search committee and the executive committee, disagreed.
"I've described the process itself," he said. "The only thing I haven't described is the candidates we interviewed. The process is transparent."
Corrada said he'll work to make Tampa Bay & Co. more transparent — up to a point.
"I think you can absolutely count on that," he said. "The only place that I'll be very protective is where we might jeopardize our competitive edge when we're bidding against someone else. At the end of the day, it's about landing the deal."
His name was first floated in November, before the official search process began. Dean denied Corrada was the choice from the start. Corrada noted he endured eight hours of interviews.
"If there was a fix, I don't know what kind of a fix it was," he said, "because I have not had to work this hard for a job."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3404.