Developer Fred Bullard first noticed Karol Kelly in 1968 as she was unloading boxes of shoes from her car in the parking lot of the Tampa complex where they both lived. And, yes, he used the eye-rolling “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” pickup line to introduce himself. As an on-air weather forecaster for the local ABC television station, WLCY, Kelly was used to being recognized and figured Bullard was a viewer. He wasn’t, he allowed. “I just thought she was pretty.”
This year, the couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with the opening of a special gift Bullard presented to his bride: a new hotel bearing her name. “It’s going to be the best little hotel in Tampa Bay,” said Bullard, who developed Feather Sound where the hotel is located, as well as hotels, resorts, restaurants and apartment buildings throughout the state. The Karol, at 2685 Ulmerton Road, is scheduled to debut on Feb. 6 and is the first Marriott Tribute hotel in Pinellas County, with 123 rooms, including a presidential suite, a mahogany paneled bar modeled after Manhattan’s famed Polo Club and a rooftop bar with views of Tampa Bay.
We joined them for lunch recently at their favorite table at their favorite restaurant, Bascom’s Chop House, which Bullard opened in 2001. He remembered every detail of their first date. “I was pulling into the parking lot of my favorite Italian restaurant in Tampa and I turned to her and said, ‘What’s your favorite restaurant?’” When Kelly said she loved Bern’s Steak House, “I backed the car up and turned around and drove to Bern’s,” Bullard said. “She ordered the biggest steak they had and she did a good job with that.” As they were leaving, he asked about dessert “and she said she would love dessert. She ate a big slice of banana cream pie and asked to take one home, too,” he said. Kelly said she didn’t eat out much in those days and sometimes didn’t eat all day at work. “So when someone was treating me, I enjoyed myself,” she said. Her openness was endearing to Bullard. “When I got to know her I saw her depth and that was killer — she had all of it,” he said.
The couple married at Peace Presbyterian Church in downtown Clearwater on December 19, 1970. Along with his four children from a previous marriage, they added three sons. Today, they have 17 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and two great-grandchildren on the way.
Karol Bullard, 75, started her on-air career at a radio station in Zephyrhills, where she began after spending a year at Ohio State University. Her parents bought the station and invited her to move to Florida and enroll at the University of South Florida for the remainder of her college education. “At the radio station I did everything,” she said. “I sold advertising, I was on the air, I did the books and I cleaned the floors.” She moved to television a few years later, taking over the weather when former forecaster Dick Crippen moved to the sports desk. Her television career ended when she became pregnant with their first child in 1972. “At that time you couldn’t be pregnant and be on the air,” she said. She has remained active, heading numerous community charity events and serving on boards of organizations that support the causes she is most passionate about. She works tirelessly on events to raise money for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast, Operation Par Inc., the American Red Cross and the Queen of Hearts Ball, which benefits the American Heart Association.
The hotel, just down the street from Bascom’s, is a passion they share. Karol has helped with designs, decorating and working with the chefs at the two restaurants: K Club Bar & Bistro and Vantage, the rooftop bar with a view of Feather Sound and Carillon. Some of the hotel designs have her initials intertwined in the decor.
While working together has its challenges, the Bullards have two ways of dealing with that stress: They laugh and they spend time apart when necessary. “You have to have a sense of humor if you are married this long,” Karol said, adding, “And we always have our own bathrooms — we like our privacy.” As the hotel opening approached, the Bullards were making frequent visits to the site and tweaking artwork and furnishings.
One final touch, from their 49th anniversary, is a neon sign Karol had made with the words “Don’t I Know You From Somewhere?” It will hang in the rooftop bar.