New interim CEO takes over at Visit St. Pete-Clearwater

Paul Sacco is the new interim president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

CLEARWATER — Jim Dean became interim president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater on Feb. 4. He replaced David Downing, who had served in that position since 2014.

Downing resigned in January to take a job in the private sector.

But Dean didn’t last long as the interim head of the county’s official tourism marketing and management organization. At the April 17 Tourist Development Council meeting, it was announced that long-time county employee Paul Sacco was the new interim president and CEO.

Dean, who also was former president of SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, has accepted a job as president and CEO of the Memphis Zoo. The Memphis Zoological Society Board of Directors chose Dean at an April 10 meeting.

Sacco has been playing musical chairs at the county in recent years. He had been the county’s real estate director since 2007 before his promotion to assistant county administrator, which was his job title as of Feb. 21. He was recently appointed as director of Solid Waste and now his work responsibilities include interim president and CEO of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater.

Little was said about the personnel change at the TDC meeting. TDC Chair Karen Seel simply said that Dean has returned to his hometown to run the Memphis Zoo.

Sacco took advantage of his new role to announce “positive” news for the county’s tourism industry.

In February, the number of room sold increased by 2.7% over last year with the average daily rate climbing 4.2% to $171.07. The revenue per available room was up 8.8%.

That translates to an increase in tourist development tax (bed tax) collections, which were up 7.27% over February 2018.

Year to date rooms sold are up 2.9%, average daily rate is up 3.2% and revenue per available room 7.7%. Bed tax collections for the year (October-February) are up 2.58% compared to the same period in 2018.

Collections have increased every month except October, which were down 7.95%, mostly due to red tide. As of the end of October, more than 22.3 million had been collected. The total collected in 2018 was just over $59.7 million.

Tim Ramsberger, VSPC chief operating officer, announced that applications for elite event funding could be submitted until April 26. Seel asked for volunteers to serve on the application review committee.

Seel also announced that the County Commission had approved moving forward with the application from the Dali Museum for its request for funding from the capital projects fund.

In other business, the council:

• received a legislative update from Brian Lowack, the county’s intergovernmental liaison, on items of interest to the tourism industry.

• received an update from Ramsberger on a pending Request for Proposal for a sports facility feasibility study.

• received a report from Rosemarie Payne director of Leisure Travel.

• received an update from Barbara St. Clair, executive director of Creative Pinellas.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at