Philanthropist of the Year David Straz saw his name brightening the Tampa skyline just as his $25 million donation brightened the future of the city's art scene.
The banker's gift to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, believed to be the largest ever to a bay area cultural institution, brought significant changes this year. From the name change — an electrifying sign proclaims the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts — to program and staff expansion, the impact will be felt for years to come.
"It's huge," said Bill Faucett, director of endowment and planned giving at the Straz Center. "As an unrestricted gift it can go to any and all of our areas, from building improvements to education."
Hiring the first chairman of the dance department is one example Faucett cited. Programming and the quality of artists booked will soar, he said.
Straz, an opera devotee, is pleased superstar Placido Domingo is coming in February. "I was at his 60th birthday party at the Met in New York a few years ago," he said.
Straz, 68, who has three honorary doctorates, bought his first bank at age 25 in Wisconsin. In 1980, he moved to Florida, where he bought and merged more banks, ultimately selling the combined operation to Fifth Third Bank.
Organizations dream of luring Straz and his wife, Catherine Lowry Straz, to their board of directors. In the past 10 years, David Straz served on at least 10. Catherine Straz currently presides over the Lowry Park Zoological Society.
Last month, Straz accepted a new role — treasurer of Dick Greco's mayoral campaign and co-chairman of the candidate's finance committee. Greco would not be the first politician to call on his strategic thinking. President George W. Bush named Straz honorary consulate general of the Republic of Liberia in 2003.
Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer