Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

BrandTampa.com members share city scenes, city secrets

TAMPA — Environmentalist, meet preservationist.

City Council member, meet starving artist.

After all, you have something pretty big in common:

You live in Tampa. And you want to make it better.

That's the philosophy behind BrandTampa.com, the social networking Web site that has already connected more than 400 creative minds in discussions about everything from local hot-button issues to musings about the city's best kept secrets.

Unlike Facebook and MySpace, which focus on individual member profiles, BrandTampa focuses not the members themselves, but their city.

Profiles answer: Why are you here? What is your favorite thing about Tampa? Why do you stay?

But its founder Julia Gorzka wasn't always Tampa's biggest cheerleader.

Gorzka hated it here. And who could blame her?

Ten years ago, the art historian was plucked from her Sex and the City lifestyle in Manhattan to run her family's IT recruitment consulting business in Tampa, after her dad became ill. (He has since recovered.)

Her stuff sat in a storage space in New York City for two years while she lived in the 'burbs of Tampa Palms with her parents — no car, no friends — longing to leave, but not knowing when.

Then, her uncle offered her some wise words: "Hon," he said. "Get a life."

She took his advice, and took her stuff out of storage. She got an apartment in Davis Islands and started learning about the city in programs like Leadership Tampa Bay, which showed her all the hidden gems that keep the natives here.

Then, something happened. Her dad's company closed.

"Sweet freedom," she thought at first. But when she considered her options — New York, New Orleans — she couldn't believe her own decision:

"Wow," she thought. "I want to stay here?"

• • •

The transplanted Manhattanite loved urban living, so someone suggested she get in on the hot real estate market and help sell condos downtown. Most of her buyers were flippers who wanted to throw down money, but didn't think downtown would ever be more than a ghost town.

"We'll believe it when we see it," they told her.

Gorzka grew frustrated. They couldn't picture downtown life quite like she did. So she left real estate behind and picked up her digital camera. She'd brand Tampa, with a grass roots approach.

With her teeny dog LuLu in tow, she filmed tours of a few downtown condos before they opened. On YouTube, the bubbly Gorzka, with her wide smile and trademark square-rimmed glasses, became the face of downtown Tampa.

In June, she took the next step.

• • •

So, how to communicate? Gorzka thought.

Community workshops?

No one would show up.

E-newsletter?

Double-click, delete.

Her friends told her about the Ning platform, a template that allows users to create their own social networking sites. In June, she registered Brand Tampa, and word-of-mouth did the rest. The network filled with local coffee shop owners and indie musicians, neighborhood bloggers and nonprofit leaders.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena isn't as digitally literate as she wishes she could be, but she tried her hand at BrandTampa.com. She posted her thoughts about matters coming before the City Council and invited people to discussions about issues like preservation and the Hillsborough River. They actually showed up.

David Jenkins, producing artistic director for Jobsite Theater, saw some new faces supporting the local troupe's shows, thanks to Gorzka, who organized a BrandTampa night.

And Jessie Stehlik, in charge of marketing for Tre Amici @ the Bunker in Ybor City, was tired of seeing customers spend all day there on their laptops, searching for jobs. She wanted to do something to help, beyond giving discounts on their coffee.

She started a discussion on BrandTampa and got replies from people who do job counseling and review resumes. Less than a month after her first post, she has already planned a job fair at Tre Amici.

• • •

Gorzka now spends much of her time in what she calls a "war room" in her Bayshore condo. Big thoughts are scribbled on pieces of paper taped to her lime green walls; LuLu shares her lap with a MacBook.

She plans to spread the "Brand" network idea to other cities.

Her calendar is full of public speaking engagements, and she has recently launched a consulting business called City Linkage, which shows businesses and nonprofits how to use digital tools like video and Twitter to engage their audiences.

To what does she credit her instant success?

Tampa, of course.

"I'm not from here. I'm not a rich kid. In Tampa," she said, "all you have to do is want to make a difference."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

BrandTampa.com members share city scenes, city secrets 11/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 6, 2008 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute

    Drought

    When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

    During one of the worst droughts in the Tampa Bay region's history, hundreds of houses used more than a gallon of water a minute. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times

  2. PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Baker's talking point about the growth of St. Petersburg's A-rated schools

    Elections

    Rick Baker has used mailers, forums and social media to relay one big message in his campaign for St. Petersburg mayor: Schools in St. Petersburg saw drastic improvements when he was mayor from 2001 to 2010.

    Rick Baker, candidate for St. Petersburg mayor
  3. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  4. Clearwater suspect due in court after 9 die in sweltering San Antonio truck

    Nation

    SAN ANTONIO — Nine people are dead and the death toll could rise after emergency crews pulled dozens of people from a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, victims of what officials said was an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  5. Email warning ignored before St. Pete started spewing sewage

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A draft report lays blame for the city's sewage crisis squarely on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman and a cascading series of errors that started with the now infamous shuttering of the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility in 2015.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]