by Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua Marketing
Back to the Future
Arriving at Tampa International recently I looked for triggers that might transport me back to 1979 when, during my second ever trip to the US, I visited St Pete Clearwater. A generous, older relative who worked in sales was attending a convention and took his girlfriend, another male friend and 2 nephews along for the ride. We all stayed – economically and ergonomically – in the same guest room! The 2 nephews – I was 19, Jimmy 17 – quickly learned to charge purchases to a guest room and benefitted from the licensing laws in Florida at the time. There was also the cute female lifeguard, a trip to Busch Gardens and unabated sunshine.
SITE Foundation in St Pete, June 2022
When we visited the Don CeSar last week for the board meeting of SITE Foundation’s trustees – 43 years later – I couldn’t channel any specific memory of 1979. There was plenty of sunshine but no sign of my cute lifeguard. The hotel, however, looked the same, pretty in pink following a recent renovation that retained all its original grace and elegance, while future-proofing it with the latest in digital infrastructure.
Our meeting was hosted at the Vinoy in St Pete, another heritage property about to undertake a multi-million make-over, thanks to the vision and deep pockets of its owners, the Glazer family. From the plans shared with us by Resident Manager Richard Szilagyi, the Vinoy Mark 11 will set new standards in hospitality in the region, helping to consolidate St Pete’s as a strong, emerging destination for incentive travel.
St Pete – Edgy, Diverse, Creative
And that’s precisely what St Pete is. There’s an immensely appealing edginess to this small but perfectly formed city. It’s expressed by the plethora of art galleries, the diversity of its inhabitants, the vast range of restaurants and the fact that it feels more West Coast than Florida, more Carmel or Monterey than Orlando or Miami.
You certainly get this feeling at The Dali, a stunning art museum that hosts over 2,400 works by the Spanish surrealist. When the collectors, A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, decided to donate their growing collection in the mid 70s, St Petersburg, Florida was first to say “yes, please”. The museum opened in 1982 and then, in January 2011, moved to a dedicated, purpose built space designed by architect, Yann Weymouth.
We were taken around The Dali by a wonderfully entertaining docent who helped us deep dive into Dali’s exceedingly weird and very wonderful world, while wearing a navy blue wedge shoe on her head. She was the perfect embodiment of surrealism that’s all about placing familiar objects in unfamiliar, unexpected places.
After a short walk around the James, another top class, St Pete art institution depicting the peoples, landscapes, and history of the American West, we decamped to the Warehouse district to visit 3 Daughters Brewing, one of a number of craft breweries in St. Pete. With tasty flights, pretzels and great live music, we could have settled in there for the evening except we had further gastronomic duties to fulfil …
Great Restaurants of St Pete
The culinary scene in St Pete is as eclectic and diverse as the local residents, and Tracy and the team at St Pete Clearwater had us experience some wonderful locations – Cassis, Sea Salt, The Library and Park Shore Grill. At Sea Salt, we uncovered a great Slovenia wine on a stunning wine list to accompany the oyster feast with which we started. After dinner we gathered at Pier Teaki for desserts, drinks and a memorable sunset on the magnificent St. Pete Pier. Designed by Rogers Partners, ASD | SKY, and Ken Smith Workshop, the pier is a $56 million investment, co-created with St Pete residents – the architectural designs which won the initial competition having been rejected by the locals! The pier typifies the newly emerging St Pete with its perfect mix of brilliant design and great civic, recreational and commercial spaces.
Fond & Fitting Farewell
Given the topography of St Pete, it was fitting that we spent our final evening on the water. We were joined on board the Yacht Starship III by many of the local destination partners and experienced a magical evening with the sun on our faces, a light breeze in the air, and many yacht rock melodies blowing through the jasmine in my mind, bringing me back to that life changing summer of 79.
Pádraic Gilligan is Chief Marketing Officer at SITE and SITE Foundation.