They are newcomers to Tampa Bay ready to make their mark. They are veterans of Tampa Bay institutions stepping into new and bigger jobs. They are embarking on major development projects that will start to be noticed soon. They are a trio of executives competing to run one of this area's top corporations at a challenging time. They are looking for ways to resuscitate a downtown that is resisting conventional remedies. At this midyear moment, they are ten key business people to watch for the rest of 2017.
Defending Hulk, now Palin
1. Ken Turkel, attorney with Bajo Cuva Cohen Turkel law firm in Tampa. Looks like the $31 million settlement delivered by the legal team that included Turkel and fellow attorney Shane Vogt for client Hulk Hogan in the Gawker sex tapes lawsuit has not hurt the Tampa firm's penchant for high-profile cases. Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, just put Tampa natives Turkel and Vogt on her legal team to argue her defamation claims against the New York Times. Filed on June 27, the lawsuit alleges Palin was defamed in an editorial which she said links her to the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., best known for the gunshot wound to the head of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who survived the incident.
Building a TGH-USF partnership
2. John Couris, CEO of Tampa General Hospital:
Couris becomes TGH's CEO in September after serving as a hospital executive in Jupiter and a decade of high-level experience in Pinellas and Pasco counties. The timing is noteworthy. TGH is the teaching hospital for USF Health, which encompasses the University of South Florida's medical, nursing and public health schools. And USF Health is relocating from the Tampa campus to downtown Tampa, in the heart of "Water Street Tampa" — as the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment redevelopment project near Channelside is now named. That puts USF Health and TGH within a stone's throw of each other. Couris clearly will be called on to make that partnership grow and prosper.
Big Dig at Gandy and Westshore
3. Beck Daniel, executive vice president of development, BTI Partners. This is not just another Tampa housing project. Daniel spearheads his Fort Lauderdale developer's ambitious $650 million plan to transform a 52-acre, waterfront tract into a community called Westshore Marina District — planned for 1,750 residences, a 200-room hotel, up to 240,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space and as many as 240 boat slips. Not a bad comeback in the works for what was once distressed property.
Minority woman heads SPC
4. Tonjua Williams, president, St. Petersburg College. When Dr. William arrives on campus in the first week of July, it will be in her new role as SPC president — after 30 years in many jobs at the college. Where to start with her goals? At the top of her list: expand SPC's footprint in Pinellas County by making sure programs meet the needs of a local workforce and lead students to well-paying jobs. "We're here to change lives," she says. "That's been our mission all along." Williams seems at home after three decades at SPC. "I will continue to till the soil, bring my A-game," she says, "and do my best for the college and the community we serve."
Will Bill emerge as HSN CEO?
5. Bill Brand, president, HSN Inc. Who can fill the stylish shoes of Mindy Grossman, HSN's CEO for many years until she left in May to run Weight Watchers International? Brand is one of three internal candidates (the others are No. 6 and 7 in this list) competing with outside potentials for the coveted but very challenging job of making HSN hum again. The company's stumbled lately so perhaps it is time for fresh blood.
Will Judy emerge as HSN CEO?
6. Judy Schmeling, president of HSN subsidiary Cornerstone Brands and chief operating officer of HSN Inc. Departed HSN CEO Mindy Grossman lavished praise on Schmeling as COO and figured she was as adept as anyone to then turn around HSN's flagging Cornerstone Brands' catalog businesses of clothing and home decor. Is Judy the one?
Will Rod emerge as HSN CEO?
7. Rod Little, chief financial officer, HSN Inc. He's the newcomer to HSN to be vying already for departed CEO Mindy Grossman's job. Little arrived in January from past jobs that include CFO for Elizabeth Arden Inc. and various leadership positions with Procter & Gamble. With six months left in 2017, it's an easy bet that a Mindy Grossman successor will be named well before year-end. HSN can't tread water that long waiting for leadership.
Branding Water Street Tampa
8. Ali Glisson, marketing/communications vice president at Strategic Property Partners. It took a long time for the Vink-Cascade Investment joint redevelopment project, $3 billion in size and counting, to finally get a name. Now it is up to Glisson and her SPP team to make "Water Street Tampa" mean more than a name that could fit comfortably on the sides of upscale condo towers here. Glisson describes Water Street (Old Water Street, an actual street, may be renamed Water Street) as "a real neighborhood spine, a place with a real residential neighborhood feel" that will include retail, a park with planned events, a 5-star hotel and a community center. Brand building takes time, of course, but this project will require a decade or more to come together. Where will you be in 2027?
If Rick Baker becomes mayor?
9. Bill Edwards, owner of the Edwards Group. Edwards owns the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer franchise and the SunDial St. Pete shops. He's the successful operator of St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater. He's an area philanthropist. Edwards is probably the most influential private citizen in St. Petersburg, using his wealth and legal muscle to make things happen — usually in ways that he wants. His Achilles heel, if he has one? A lingering federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accusing Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. Now comes former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman in this fall's election. Since 2012, Baker happens to have run Edwards' company, making six figures pushing to expand Edwards' business empire. If Baker beats Kriseman, it's doubtful Edwards will need to call ahead to see Mr. Mayor. Then again, Edwards has pretty much had the run of St. Pete for awhile.
Can Clearwater be salvaged?
10. Seth Taylor, Community Redevelopment Agency director for the city of Clearwater. He's enjoyed, or perhaps survived, his first year trying to crack the mystery of how to revive downtown Clearwater. Since coming to Clearwater from New York City, Taylor's made a ton of little changes and one big one: He's driving the $55 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment. And he's a major player in an aggressive city plan to use cash to lure businesses downtown. "I think what has prevented anchor tenants from locating here is they don't see the people and the activity so they don't feel confident making the investment in downtown," Taylor recently told this newspaper. "That's why this program is so important because it gives the extra boost they need to come down here." There's a problem, though. The Church of Scientology (the 800-pound gorilla in Clearwater's room) refuses to work with him. Such is the latest chapter of Clearwater's dilemma.
Times staff writers Susan Taylor Martin, Tracey McManus, Justine Griffin and Jeff Harrington contributed to this column. Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.