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With big projects unfolding across Tampa Bay, 10 people to watch in 2012

Signs of a recovering Tampa Bay economy are multiplying. Major rebrandings — whether it's a key technology group, a once-vibrant retail complex, St. Petersburg's prized Pier or the state's largest newspaper — are in full swing. New blood's just arrived to fill important business positions. After many years, downtown Tampa's thinking vertical expansion again. Oh, yeah, there's that political convention coming to town this summer. Who's making all this happen? Meet 10 people to watch in 2012.

Heather Kenyon

Tampa Bay Technology Forum CEO

Recently anointed Tampa Bay Technology Forum CEO Heather Kenyon wants to rebuild the 10-year-old TBTF into the regional firebrand it once was — before it morphed into a competent but bland provider of technology meetings and networking socials. Kenyon, 40, is a high-octane sales pro (and former TBTF vice president) eager to reinvigorate the organization by supporting Tampa Bay's emerging ecosystem for tech entrepreneurs and creating co-working space for young tech firms.

"Tech is going gangbusters," says Kenyon, as demand for technology jobs helps lead the area economy out of the doldrums. Even Tampa's Outback Steakhouse executives are in touch, seeking leads on hiring good IT people.

Hurdles remain for an organization that once envisioned Tampa Bay as Florida's Silicon Valley. In some tech circles, TBTF has lost its mojo as the primo mover and shaker for area technology. Some even question whether a naturally chaotic tech community really can be corralled under one umbrella anymore. Kenyon is smart and knows TBTF's biggest weapon is its core of seasoned tech leaders, from Gray Robinson's Brent Britton, Enporion's George Gordon and Tribridge's Tony DiBenedetto to Digital Hands' Charlotte Baker, Red Vector's Tom Wallace and Intelladon's Marc Blumenthal — just to skim the surface of the local dream team.

Bob Abberger

Managing director of real estate firm Trammell Crow Co.

It's a powerful symbol of "rising" downtown confidence. SouthGate, the first new office tower to be built in downtown Tampa in nearly 15 years, is back on track. The man behind the project is Bob Abberger, managing director of real estate firm Trammell Crow Co. He envisions up to a 20-story tower, an adjacent 350-room upscale hotel and a parking garage. It would rise across from the University of South Florida's soon-to-debut Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS, not far from Channelside. The fit is a natural. Abberger anticipates plenty of potential customers: physicians and their surgical teams flying into Tampa to be trained in the latest robotic surgery techniques.

Rezoning was completed in December in a 7-0 vote with no comments from the City Council. Says Abberger, 56: "We are proceeding with site plan approval, announcing our marketing team and advancing discussions with tenants." Likely completion: early 2014.

Lisa Wannemacher

Head of the 19-year-old Wannemacher Jensen Architects

Call her the eyes and ears of St. Petersburg's much-anticipated Pier project known as the Lens. Lisa Wannemacher, 49, head of the 19-year-old Wannemacher Jensen Architects in downtown St. Petersburg, was recruited by Los Angeles-based Michael Maltzan when his Lens design for the new Pier made it to the finals. Now Wannemacher's on call to help explain and inspire St. Petersburg locals about the Lens as it starts its long run through a maze of public workshops and city government inquiries. What version of the Lens will St. Petersburg get for $50 million?

Earlier, Wannemacher was on a local team pushing another design, which immersed her in the entire pier process. "We set out to make an iconic destination that has never been done before," Wannemacher says of the Lens. "We are not duplicating something."

Look for the existing Pier to come down next year and construction on the Lens to begin by early 2014.

Rick Homans

CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Rick Homans, the recently arrived CEO of the Tampa Hills­borough Economic Development Corp., is wasting no time gearing up for a strong year of business recruiting. Teaming up with this year's EDC chair (and TECO Energy president) Gordon Gillette, Homans brings fresh eyes and bigger ambitions. After all, he was director of New Mexico's Spaceport Authority, overseeing the state's first commercial space enterprise, Spaceport America — at least until the state's new governor encouraged him to step down.

Already, he's touting our low cost of housing as a recruiting tool. Says Homans, 55: "I've taken tours of the Port of Tampa, Tampa International Airport, University of South Florida and University of Tampa — all world-class treasures, with potential to attract significant jobs in the future."

Paul Tash

Chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Co.

All launches are fragile, Paul Tash, 57, leader of the Tampa Bay Times, says of the official Jan. 1 renaming of the St. Petersburg Times. "I'd say we have cleared the pad and lifted off cleanly."

Rebranding Florida's largest newspaper is "priority one this year," Tash says. So far, just six weeks into the name change, Tash says he is elated. By waiting to change the name, an event slowed by a now-resolved legal challenge, he says the switch to Tampa Bay Times better reflects today's reality: The bulk of the newspaper's circulation is beyond St. Petersburg.

"The name change became more descriptive than aspirational," says Tash. And that makes the change easier to embrace.

Strengthening the regional "Tampa Bay" brand — via the names of our sports teams, university system or leading newspaper — only makes this area more easily identifiable from afar and competitive going forward. Tash says he is on call to discuss the Tampa Bay Times rebranding. "As long as people want to talk about it," he says, "I'll be happy to do so."

Ken Jones

CEO of Tampa Bay Host Committee of the 2012 Republican National Convention

Listening to easy-joking Ken Jones, CEO of the Tampa Bay Host Committee of the 2012 Republican National Convention, you would not think he's in charge of a once-in-a-lifetime event that, by his estimate, will deliver five to six times the media attention that a mere Super Bowl can deliver. No pressure there. But Jones, 40, wants to make it crystal clear whom he's really working for.

"The host committee is not a political committee. Our job is to promote Tampa Bay," he says. That's why Jones spends so much time talking up the opportunities for area commerce, while curbing the enthusiasm of some businesses convinced the RNC will be the Mother of All Windfalls.

"You won't hit the Powerball," Jones says.

Even RNC protesters, likely to number in the thousands when the convention kicks off in late August, are welcome, says Jones, whose real job is serving as general counsel for the Tampa investment banking firm Communications Equity Associates.

Tash Elwyn

Private client group president of Raymond James & Associates

As the top honchos at Raymond James Financial put it, you don't spend close to $1 billion on a deal — in this case buying the Memphis-based Morgan Keegan brokerage firm for $930 million — "unless you're pretty confident" of the outcome. A big player in making the consolidation of Morgan Keegan profitable and keeping upward of 1,000 new financial advisers happy is Tash Elwyn, 40, the private client group president of Raymond James & Associates. One month since the Jan. 12 announcement, Raymond James has hosted visits with nearly half of the Morgan Keegan advisers at RayJay's home office. Why? To show them the new boss is a lot like the old boss.

No surprise, a big issue is compensation. The buzz is that some recruiters are not convinced that the retention package being offered will encourage all Morgan Keegan advisers to move over to Raymond James.

Elwyn's optimistic. "Although we certainly expect Morgan Keegan advisers to receive competing offers from other firms and recruiters, it's important to recognize that the recruiters have been circling since Morgan Keegan was put up for sale many months ago. … Simply put, we are committed to earning the trust and commitment of the Morgan Keegan advisers."

Kelly M. Miller

CEO of Tampa Bay & Co.

There's another newcomer talking about the need for better branding. It's Kelly M. Miller, 54, who took charge last month as CEO of Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough's tourism agency. Tampa Bay lacks a brand image, he says, and that needs to change.

"In addition to raising the awareness of the Tampa Bay area in the hearts and minds of current and potential visitors, we are going to embark on a thorough destination branding initiative, complete with a defined brand promise and platform, new creative, logo and tagline," says Miller, former director of the Asheville (N.C.) Convention and Visitors Bureau. "That initiative, combined with building new regional partnerships, will confirm the Gulf Coast as the best coast."

Step one? Hire a brand consulting firm to find the right message, logo and strategy for Tampa. A thorough study may cost up to $200,000 and take 18 months.

Bill Edwards

Big 3 Entertainment chief

This guy needs a boffo nickname. So let's add "Big Mo" to BayWalk-buying, Mahaffey-rehabilitating, mortgage-lending mogul and Big 3 Entertainment chief Bill Edwards for the big momentum he's brought to downtown St. Petersburg (not to mention his Treasure Island club). In an economy where the freewheeling wealthy are hard to find, Edwards, 67, seems to be everywhere with resources to make things happen. He's even neck deep in planning events tied to the upcoming Republican National Convention. Can this last?

He's already talking about rearranging BayWalk, which he bought last fall, with hopes for a high-end steak house and at least the dream of an Apple store. His entertainment connections mean the judging panel for ABC-TV's America's Got Talent will be on the St. Petersburg waterfront when the show holds auditions at the Mahaffey Theater in early April.

Vinny Dolan

Progress Energy Florida CEO

On the one hand, Progress Energy Florida CEO Vinny Dolan is the 2012 face of this region's business community as chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership. He's talking up the Republican National Convention in August as an opportunity to recruit businesses to move their operations to the Tampa Bay area.

On the other hand, Dolan, 57, is the point man in Florida for a major electric utility juggling four controversies.

First: Is the aging Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant, broken since 2009 and unlikely to be fixed until at least 2014, worth the time and money to bring it back online?

Second: Are the proposed Levy County nuclear plants, estimated to cost a mind-blowing $22.5 billion and rising, really ever going to be built?

Third: When the utility's customers finally face the coming spikes in their electric bills to prepay for the Levy plants, will the company be prepared for the backlash?

And fourth: Will any of these hurdles hurt the pending acquisition of Progress Energy by the larger Duke Energy?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

With big projects unfolding across Tampa Bay, 10 people to watch in 2012 02/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 11, 2012 4:00pm]

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