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Visit St. Pete/Clearwater selects three finalists in CEO search

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County has selected three finalists to take over as the head of its tourism agency, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

At a Tuesday morning County Commission meeting, administrator Barry Burton named the candidates: Tim Ramsberger, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's current chief operating officer; Tamara Pigott, the director of Lee County's tourism bureau; and Brent DeRaad, the CEO of Visit Tucson.

"We had a tremendous group of candidates," Burton said to the commissioners. "It was difficult to narrow it down."

The Pinellas agency's interim CEO — former SeaWorld executive Jim Dean — left suddenly last month for a new job leading the Memphis Zoo. The county was already working with Minnesota-based Searchwide Global to come up with finalists to take over the job permanently.

Ramsberger has been Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's chief operating officer since 2016. He's best known locally for the decade he spent leading the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but has a long history in sports event organizing and marketing.

Pigott has been leading Lee County's tourism marketing arm since 2010. Prior, she served as its deputy director. She ran the county's first-ever shoreline program to maintain and nourish area beaches. She manages a budget of about $20 million.

DeRaad has led Visit Tucson, where he manages a budget of $10 million and 40 employees, since 2012. From 2001-12, he held three positions with the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, including executive vice president.

The Pinellas group's last CEO, David Downing, worked for the agency for 12 years. He served as its interim director in 2014 before being officially named CEO. He resigned at the beginning of this year after the Tampa Bay Times began requesting records related to his county spending and vacation days.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's CEO manages a roughly $40 million budget, which is funded by a 6 percent tax placed on overnight stays in hotels or other accommodations within Pinellas.

Burton said the county is holding a public meet-and-greet May 15 so area tourism leaders can meet with the candidates and share their input via comment cards.

"I'm excited for the community to meet all three top-notch professionals and select the next leader for a world-class destination," Burton said in a statement.

It will be at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or . Follow @sara_dinatale.

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