Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

Pinellas tourism agency won't turn to public-private model

RECOMMENDED READING


CLEARWATER — There was no debate at Wednesday's Pinellas Tourist Development Council meeting about whether the county tourism agency should switch to a public-private model that would let it spend bed-tax dollars without the accountability of a government agency.

That's not going to happen.

There was also no debate about the compensation of public employees who work for that agency, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

The county needs to pay them more competitively, council members said.

"We have done an excellent job here, and we have an excellent staff," said council member Tim Bogott, CEO of TradeWinds Island Resorts. "But we are exposed here to being dismembered by others seeing our success and the talents of our people."

The tourist agency's former executive director, D.T. Minich, recently left after seven years and at the height of Pinellas' current tourism boom. He started as Osceola County's tourism chief Monday, lured by a better offer. Minich's annual salary with Visit St. Pete/Clearwater was $164,000; he will make more than $200,000 in his new job.

Minich will lead the transition of Osceola's tourism agency, Experience Kissimmee, into a public-private hybrid. Hillsborough also has a public-private hybrid tourism agency, Visit Tampa Bay.

Though those agencies distribute bed-tax dollars, they also resist following Florida government sunshine laws.

The Pinellas Tourist Development Council, a board of public and private officials that oversees Pinellas' public tourism agency, discussed the merits of a private versus public model.

A public-private agency — one that would distribute tourist-tax dollars without government rules for disbursing them — can react faster to changes in the tourism marketplace. It could sign marketing contracts faster and better compete with private-sector salaries if it wasn't subject to public scrutiny.

"There's no question in my mind the private organizations I work with have an edge because they react much faster and with more flexibility to compete with other destinations very effectively," said Walter Klages of Research Data Services, who prepared a memo breaking down the two governance models for the council.

As for the public agency model, Klages said: "Sometimes public records are good. Transparency is good. Voters want to know what's going on and need to know what's going on."

The council, though, had no appetite for bringing the public-private tourism model to Pinellas County.

"We are talking about public dollars for a public purpose, and I think the transparency issue is very important," said council member Julie Scales of the Dunedin City Commission. "I think this model has worked for us.

"If the issue is retirement and compensation, let's look at it."

It would take a vote of the Pinellas County Commission to change Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's operating model. But changing the agency's compensation policies can be done by the county administrator acting alone.

The development council feared that Pinellas' tourism success — the county is in the midst of a fourth consecutive year of record-breaking visitation and tourist-bed-tax numbers — could attract other counties looking to bolster their tourism agencies.

"There is a danger of a brain drain, no doubt," Klages said.

The council will conduct a national search to replace Minich. The top internal candidate is Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's interim director, David Downing. He said he will apply for the top job.

"My DNA is in this brand," Downing said.

Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Comments

Search suspended for missing Cortez boater who left from Egmont Key

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for a missing 63-year-old boater on Sunday evening, two days after he and his dog were reported missing five miles northwest of Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island.On Friday, Fraser Horne of Cortez...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

TAMPA — Avery, 6, slid his sneakers up the side of 200-pound rubber tire from the space shuttle Columbia and sat on top.His father, Ilder Jeannot, called for him to get off of it — usually climbing on museum displays is frowned upon. But in the new M...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Like so many small businesses, Saturday will represent a special day for Paper Seahorse owner Tona Bell. Bell’s cozy bungalow business at 211 S Howard features paper and stationery, specialty pens, vintage typewriters and crafts classes. It will offe...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

As economists predicted, the tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long-lived. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday...
Published: 11/17/17
Apple will postpone release of  HomePod

Apple will postpone release of HomePod

The Washington PostApple said Friday that it’s pushing back its plans for a Siri-powered smart speaker until sometime early next year.The HomePod speaker was announced in June, with an initial launch date set for December. Apple said that its smart s...
Published: 11/17/17
HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

ST. PETERSBURG — Good Housekeeping and St. Petersburg-based HSN have chosen five finalists for their entrepreneur competition. The partners are searching for a novel item to promote as endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Seal, denoting reliability and ...
Published: 11/17/17
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Published: 11/17/17
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Published: 11/17/17
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Published: 11/17/17
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Published: 11/17/17