You Paid For It: $60,000 party thrown by Port Tampa Bay

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Port Tampa Bay recently threw a $60,000 party for 300 guests that you paid for, but likely didn’t attend. That’s because you probably weren’t invited to the annual State of Port Tampa Bay event.

“Taxpayers want to know what we’re doing, this is our community annual report,” said Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson.

Maybe so, but most taxpayers didn’t make the invitation list.

Those who did included 300 politicians, port commissioners, business leaders, clients and other port insiders who had the opportunity to enjoy an event that all told, cost around $60,000. That works out to about $200 a plate for the invitation-only January 18 luncheon inside the Port’s Cruise Terminal 2.

“Can you do it cheaper, no question,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro, who was on the guest list and did attend. “I don’t think it was over the top,” Calabro said. “It was classy.”

Port executives insist the entire budget of this classy event came from port profits, not the $33 million that taxpayers invest annually for the port budget. But technically speaking, the entire port and all of its assets belong to the public, so in the larger sense any money spent by the port is by its very nature a taxpayer investment.

“I can’t tell you an exact amount (that the luncheon cost),“ said Anderson. “This is required by our policies to do an annual report and ports around the country proudly tell their story. This is a community shareholder year meeting that we do each and every year as far as I know, it’s been going on 30 plus years.”

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This year, the Port spent $12,537 so that 300 invited guests could dine on a buffet menu of beef tenderloin, chicken breast a la Orange Blossom, wild rice paysanne with cranberries and walnuts, brussels sprouts with bacon, and an assortment of mouthwatering desserts ranging from cream puffs to cannoli.

The luncheon entertainment included impressive–and to be fair, re-usable–videos showcasing the port on giant projection screens that along with backdrops, banners and annual brochures costs you, the taxpayer, an estimated $20,180.

And don’t forget the lights, cameras, and 13 member production crew that pulled together the live multimedia event for another $14,142 and the keynote speech by Port Director Paul Anderson’s personal and family friend—former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card– who charged you $10,665 for his spoken presentation and travel expenses.

“These leaders want to see what we’re doing and the port community and our prospective customers are all part of coming to this luncheon and seeing and hearing what the future is and its part of business,” Anderson said.

Speaking of port business, in his State of the Port speech, Anderson described 2016 as a “good,” and “interesting” year and “a year with challenges but also a lot of opportunity.”  With the exception of noting a decline in cruise business, Anderson failed to mention that in a number of key business indicators — shipping business involving coal, steel, and containers, 2016 was a down year.

Overall cargo tonnage, which relies on the perennial port mainstays of petroleum and dry bulk goods like fertilizer, was slightly up. “While we are happy with the increase we view this as a relatively flat year,” Anderson told the crowd.

Whatever the State of Port Tampa Bay happens to be, the people who invested the most—taxpayers—for the most part didn’t get to enjoy the luncheon Anderson and his executive staff pulled together this year to promote it.

But, Anderson believes that’s still a good use of resources, no matter who consumed his message after dining on beef tenderloin and cream puffs.  “I think this is a very productive way and good return on investment on how we tell the community,” Anderson said. “I just think what you want to do is rally the troops and move forward,” said Calabro.

Here’s hoping that 2017 will be a better year for Port Tampa Bay and the taxpayers who support it. Maybe, if 2017 proves to be a banner year, there will also be champagne on hand to toast success paid for by the private businesses that profit from the port.

We’ll have more about this $60,000 party tonight at 6 on WFLA News Channel 8.

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Some of the food available on the buffet at the party.
Some of the food available on the buffet at the party.

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