Former Tampa mayor and insurance executive William F. Poe Sr. dies at 82

The insurance mogul fought against a deal for a new Bucs stadium in the '90s.
Bill Poe Sr. died at home under hospice care following an illness of several weeks, his son said. DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times (2007)
Bill Poe Sr. died at home under hospice care following an illness of several weeks, his son said.DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2007)
Published May 2 2014
Updated May 3 2014

TAMPA — William F. "Bill" Poe Sr., a millionaire insurance executive and former mayor of Tampa, died late Thursday. He was 82.

Mr. Poe served as Tampa's mayor from 1974 to 1979, built up one of the nation's largest insurance agencies and fought a lonely battle in the 1990s against a deal for a new Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium that he felt would hurt taxpayers.

"He was not a politician," his son, William Poe Jr., 58, said Friday. "He was a businessman. His only goal when he was mayor was just to help the city of Tampa in whatever way he could."

Mr. Poe died at home under hospice care after an illness of several weeks, his son said.

"Tampa has lost one of its greatest citizens," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "As mayor, he ushered in the city we know today."

Former Mayor Pam Iorio said Mr. Poe was "completely devoted to his family and community."

"His vision was to make his hometown of Tampa into a first-class city," she said. "His life's work helped make that happen."

Born in Tampa, Mr. Poe grew up in Seminole Heights and was president of the Hillsborough High School class that donated the school's iconic clock tower.

After playing freshman basketball at Duke University, he transferred to the University of Florida, where he received a bachelor's degree in business in 1953.

After serving in Tokyo for the Air Force at the end of the Korean War, he returned to Tampa and in 1956 founded his insurance agency in a former barbershop in downtown's Stovall Building.

Specializing in insurance for groups such as dentists, lawyers and auto dealers, the company expanded through acquisitions. By 1993, when it merged with Brown & Brown of Daytona Beach, Poe & Associates had $50 million in annual revenues.

In 1974, Mr. Poe was elected mayor in a special election after then-Mayor Dick Greco resigned to go to work for shopping center developer Edward J. DeBartolo. The following year, Mr. Poe was elected to a four-year term.

As mayor, Mr. Poe worked to bring a major downtown redevelopment that included the creation of the "Quad Block," now the site of One Tampa City Center and the Hilton Tampa Downtown Hotel.

He also invested in street, drainage and water system improvements, replaced the Police Department's patrol fleet and started work on Tampa's Riverwalk.

After his term ended in 1979, Mr. Poe returned to the insurance business, but did not disengage from civic affairs.

Years later, as a private citizen, Mr. Poe took on Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and Tampa's political establishment over the construction of what is now Raymond James Stadium.

Reading the proposed stadium lease for the Bucs, Mr. Poe "realized that public money was going to flow into private enterprise, and he didn't think that was ethical or legal," William Poe Jr. said.

In 1996, Mr. Poe filed suit, contending that using public bonds to build a stadium for a private businessman violated Florida's Constitution.

He spent $1 million of his own money in the fight but lost.

Still, he was not bitter. He called the Bucs "an excellent team," but maintained that keeping them in Tampa should not have come at taxpayer expense.

Three years after the lawsuit, the County Commission, with new members on board, gave Mr. Poe its Moral Courage Award.

"He spent large sums of money and alienated many close friends in his quest," then-Commission Chairwoman Jan Platt said at the award ceremony. "But he did not relent because he believed in his cause, as did thousands of others, I might add. He walked through the lions, straight on."

As an insurance executive, Mr. Poe had decades of success, but in the last decade of his life struggled through a crisis that followed two years of devastating storms.

Starting in the late 1990s, Mr. Poe formed three companies that took on policies from state-backed Citizens Property Insurance, often in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Then, in 2004-05, eight storms struck Florida, and Mr. Poe's companies were hit with more than $2.5 billion in wind damage claims. It was more than they could handle. Citizens ended up processing 320,000 Poe policies. To cover the unpaid claims, Floridians had to pay a premium when they bought homeowners or auto insurance.

In 2007, Mr. Poe said the companies were sound through the 2004 storms, but Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 proved to be too much. He had hoped to work through the problems but said he could not get the state financing that would have helped. Also, he noted, if the policies had stayed with Citizens in the first place, the state would have suffered the same losses.

"But that's making an excuse," Mr. Poe said, "and I'm not trying to do that. "We got killed on wind (claims). That's the way it is."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.