As Tampa Tribune president and a civic force, Jim Urbanski marked his city

He retired from the newspaper in 1991 but kept a hand in shaping Tampa as ‘America’s Next Great City.’ Mr. Urbanksi died recently at 93.
James F. "Jim" Urbanski, right, with wife Ann, marking his 50th year in Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at the coronation ball in 2018.
James F. "Jim" Urbanski, right, with wife Ann, marking his 50th year in Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at the coronation ball in 2018. [ Times (2018) ]
Published June 4, 2021

In his later years, Jim Urbanski would sometimes go with his family from his South Tampa home to nearby Ballast Point. The oak-shaded spot at the end of curving Bayshore Boulevard on the water had one of the most impressive views in his adopted city.

From there, he could have seen much of the work he had done in Tampa.

To the northwest was Raymond James Stadium, which replaced Tampa Stadium, where the city hosted its first Super Bowl in 1984. He was part of the effort to get it here.

To the east were the bay waters on which he sailed on the jaunty Gasparilla ship alongside the other costumed-and-scarred pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe, a private club of the city’s most powerful men.

And just beyond those waters rose the thriving downtown where he was once president of the Tampa Tribune, along with a lengthy list of roles as a crisp-suited, approachable and accomplished civic leader.

“My dad smiled all the time,” said his son Bill Urbanski. “I never found an enemy of his.”

James “Jim” F. Urbanski, who helped shaped Tampa, died April 16, 2021. He was 93.

Mr. Urbanksi’s life started with serendipity. During the Great Depression, he and his sister were placed in a Franciscan orphanage in Peoria, Ill. When Vincent and Cecelia Urbanski came to adopt a girl, the Sisters mentioned she had a brother.

“So they took him, too,” Bill Urbanski said. “He never forgot it.”

He grew up in LaSalle, Ill., his father a worker in a zinc factory, his mother a homemaker. It was a happy childhood, his son said.

Mr. Urbanski served in the Army and attended the University of Illinois on the GI bill to study journalism. He was living in Mississippi when friends set him up on a blind date. Waiting for her in a sorority lobby, he was enchanted by a woman who came downstairs, his son said.

“He said, ‘if only that could be her.’ And it was,” Bill Urbanski said. They would marry a year later and raise four children.

Mr. Urbanski worked in newspaper advertising in Indiana and interviewed for jobs with the Tampa Tribune and Detroit Free Press. His wife, a southerner, was rooting for the warm Florida weather, but the Free Press called.

“Mom says, ‘You’ve got to wait ‘til the end of the day to hear from the Tampa Tribune,’” Bill Urbanski said. “And they called.”

The family arrived in 1960. Mr. Urbanski rose steadily up the ladder at the Tribune, staying 31 years and becoming president and general manager.

Former Tribune staffer Michael Kilgore wrote in a recent tribute that although Mr. Urbanski was known for his sharp suits and crisp white pocket handkerchiefs, he was almost always called Jim, not Mr. Urbanski. His son said he made a point of trying to know every employee’s first name.

“His steadiness and calm stood out, especially in the boisterous, rough-and-tumble grit of the newspaper,” Kilgore wrote.

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Bill Urbanski said his father “loved the Tampa Tribune.”

He was caught by surprise when he won the prestigious Tampa Civitan Club’s 1989 Outstanding Citizen of the Year. The recipient’s name was a closely-kept secret until it was announced at the yearly Florida State Fair Governor’s Luncheon, heavily attended by politicians and business types. Later, Urbanski said with a laugh that he was running late because of Interstate 4 traffic and nearly turned around and went back to work.

He retired from the Tribune in 1991, and two years later, stepped into the role of president of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce after its president left in a disagreement about management style, according to the Tribune. A reporter asked if his role was to be a healer.

“A healer? I don’t know,” he said. “I felt this was one of the finest chambers in the country and I see my role as continuing that direction or maybe improving it.”

He was involved in a laundry list of entities and causes — the Tampa Sports Authority, Red Cross, Saint Leo University and the Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback Bowl), to name a few. Kilgore said he helped approve the Tampa slogan: America’s Next Great City.

“He didn’t invent Tampa, but he certainly helped define it,” Kilgore wrote. “It was a time when a small band of leaders could make a project succeed through the strength of will and hard work.”

The family name also garnered controversy. In 1991, his son Mark Urbanski and four other young men were implicated in a high-profile rape case involving a woman they met in a bar and brought back to the Urbanski house when his parents were not home. Mark Urbanski pleaded to lesser charges and was sentenced to probation. No one was convicted of sexual assault.

After Mr. Urbanski retired, he and his wife traveled to Russia and other countries, Bill Urbanski said.

James "Jim" F. Urbanski, left, with his grandson Cooper Urbanski. Mr. Urbanski was a member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
James "Jim" F. Urbanski, left, with his grandson Cooper Urbanski. Mr. Urbanski was a member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. [ Courtesy of the Urbanski family ]

After his father’s death in April, many people told him how Mr. Urbanski had affected their lives.

“He was a mentor to a lot of people and they all let me know it, how much he helped them in their careers,” he said.

“My dad was a humble guy,” he said.

James F. Urbanski

Born: Oct. 5, 1927

Died: April 16, 2021

Survivors: His wife of 67 years, Ann Anderson Urbanski; daughters, Cissy Urbanski and Betsy Smith; sons Bill and Mark Urbanski; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.