At the age of 12, George Glover got his start in the hospitality business. He sold popcorn at his father's business, the old Largo Theater on West Bay Drive.
In 1966, he was a member of the first four-year class to graduate at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. His work experience grew from being a bellhop at what is now the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Clearwater to a 27-year career working for Wilson Hotel Co. in Memphis.
His time in Tennessee included working directly with Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the Holiday Inn chain of hotels, as well as a 17-year run as president of Wilson Hotel Management Co.
Glover, 61, moved back to Florida in 2000 and started BayStar Hotel Group, a hotel development and management company based in Tampa. As chief executive officer of the company, he oversees operations of five hotels in Largo, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tallahassee.
Glover and his wife, Belinda, reside in his childhood home in the Harbor Bluffs neighborhood of Largo.
On Wednesday, we chatted with Glover in Hotel Indigo in downtown St. Petersburg, the historic 1926 hotel reopened by BayStar Hotel Group in November 2009.
We talked about tourism, trains, and of course, his beloved hometown. Glover was named citizen of the year by the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce in 2008, an honor that was also bestowed on his father in 1965.
"I think my dad (who died in 1996) would've been proud I opened the hotels in Largo, the place he chose to make a home,'' Glover said. "But he might've questioned my decision for two hotels there. Largo of his time is not the Largo of today.''
Which of your hotels is your favorite?
Whichever makes the most money. I'm a capitalist. Seriously, the Hampton Inn in Largo has a special part of my heart because it's located so close to where my dad's business was.
Can you talk about the changes in the hotel industry in the last four or five years?
There's been an evaporation of business travelers, both with corporate groups as well as at an individual level. Leisure travel has continued to be moderately strong, but there's a struggle because disposable income is minimal for most people right now. This has hit our Orlando market hard.
Are you as calm as you appear?
I've been through three or four recessions previously so here's what I think you do. You keep an eye on the marketplace and develop creative strategies. You can't sit still. We know this recession is cyclical, and we want to be on the forefront of the business as it is coming back. I'm starting to see a little bit of an upswing in business, a little bit of positive. Last year, we didn't have a season. This year, we had the beginnings of one, until it turned cold. You learn to stick it out.
How is business at your Largo hotels?
We're holding our own. I like what's going on in the medical district nearby, with Largo Medical Center and the Diagnostic Center. I think this will bring continued growth. And, in the last few years, we've lost a lot mom-and-pop motels down on the beach. This has helped us gain customers.
Each of our brands has specific customers. For example, we knew when we opened in Largo, houses in the area were less than 2,000 square feet with no guest rooms. We believed that the community needed our type of hotel for out-of-town relatives. Also, when we opened, we expected the two hotels to be a good opportunity to create incremental (convention) business with the Largo Cultural Center.
And how's that going, with the Cultural Center?
It's still a new concept for the Cultural Center and city to understand. It needs to be driven by someone with expertise, a professional meeting planner. I think of (the) HelmsBriscoe (company), for example, someone who deals with the group market every day.
What is your opinion on redevelopment in downtown Largo?
Downtown still needs a unified and reinvigorated effort. People need to join forces, and although I admire the work of the people involved, I see no need for additional branding downtown. I don't understand the need of the name "The Old Northwest." Downtown ought to be one effort, the central business district.
How can Joe Citizen help with downtown efforts in your opinion?
Help support downtown restaurants and businesses, walk through Ulmer Park during downtown events. And for entrepreneurs out there, recognize Largo is a vibrant community.
What are your thoughts on a high-speed rail system?
I'm thinking more that there should be a rail system between Clearwater/Largo, St. Petersburg and Tampa, and with that rail system between Pinellas and Hillsborough (counties), Largo has got to be a key component. Largo already has the tracks and the foundation in place.
Why did BayStar open Hotel Indigo in St. Petersburg right now?
We think downtown St. Pete is just cool. We liked the hotel because it fit well with our development strategy of developing properties in emerging markets. In downtown St. Pete, there's 300 events a year.
Is Largo going to lose you to St. Pete?