Santiago Corrada is a good choice to head Tampa Bay & Co., Hillsborough County's tourism bureau. He is an energetic and personable leader whose history in Florida government should bring a rounded approach and some much-needed openness to the publicly financed, privately run agency.
Corrada was selected Tuesday after an opaque search that came nowhere close toward meeting the nonprofit's assurances that the hiring would be transparent. Still, he is well-suited for the job. As the troubleshooter for two Tampa mayors, Pam Iorio and Bob Buckhorn, Corrada has had a leading role in turning around troubled operations and putting on the city's signature events.
Hired by Iorio in 2004 from Miami, where he was a city parks director and a former school principal, Corrada helped manage two major flash points during Iorio's tenure. He steered a compromise with philanthropic leaders over a new arts museum, and brought accountability to the Lowry Park Zoo after a serious management scandal. Corrada oversaw the city's convention center during a turbulent time, cleaned up the annual Gasparilla parade and helped plan Super Bowl XLIII. As Buckhorn's chief of staff, he was the city's point man for last summer's Republican National Convention, an administrative nightmare that went off without major problems.
His years in government and his appreciation for the arts and Florida history should move the agency to shift more attention and promotional support to local festivals and heritage tourism. The Tampa-area market has not completely rebounded from the recession. But tourist spending and the number of hotel stays and total visitors are moving in the right direction. Corrada will need to continue to diversify the tourist market by appealing to overseas visitors; he has an ally on that front in Joe Lopano, the Tampa International Airport chief who is marketing Tampa hard on the international stage.
Corrada also needs to raise the profile of his agency, which to everyone's relief is in the midst of changing its name to appeal more directly to visitors. He also has promised to bring an agency that gets 80 percent of its $10 million budget from the county's tourist tax more into the open. He needs to follow through on that commitment; the agency's closed culture has had more to do with arrogance than with protecting its competitive edge.
Corrada's familiarity with Tampa, relationships with local leaders, marketing sense and respect for the obligations that come with running a publicly funded agency give him the right mix of skills for the job. He should take a fresh look at the diverse appeal of this community and work to market Tampa's distinct flavor to the outside world.