You Paid For It: Tampa tourism agency buckles under financial disclosure demand from lawmakers

Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Under the threat of legal action by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Visit Tampa Bay released hundreds of financial records detailing how it spent $12.5 million in bed tax dollars in Hillsborough County.

Those records include payroll, advertising and travel budgets; the same information that 8 On Your Side has been seeking from the private tourism promotion agency for the past seven months.

Among other things, the records show Visit Tampa Bay pays six-figure salaries to its top nine executives including CEO Santiago Corrada, who earns $339,000 a year, a $54,000 boost from his compensation a year earlier. Until now, Visit Tampa Bay has stonewalled WFLA’s requests.

“We just wanted to clear the air, Mr. [Mark] Douglas,” said Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

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Corrada still contends his private, nonprofit agency, which receives millions of tax dollars through a contract with Hillsborough County, is under no legal obligation to disclose details of how it spends bed tax money beyond the broad, quarterly reporting requirements put in place by Hillsborough County Government.

“We’re not simply a county department, we’re a small private company. This is a very unusual request. We are not compelled by law to disclose this,” Corrada said.

Wednesday, Corrada voluntarily complied with a detailed demand for records made Friday by State Representative Mike La Rosa, Chairman of the House Tourism and Gaming Subcommittee. La Rosa was acting at the direction of Speaker Corcoran, who made it clear to 8 On Your Side months ago, that he was determined to pry loose details of how Visit Tampa Bay spends millions in bed tax dollars.

“This is not a confrontation between Richard Corcoran and Santiago Corrada, although that’s how it’s been painted,” Corrada said.

Corcoran threatened to use subpoena power, or file a lawsuit if Visit Tampa Bay and a dozen other local tourism agencies did not comply with his recent requests for tourism spending data across the state.

The documents released Wednesday show that Visit Tampa Bay spent $4.8 million dollars on salary and benefits for its 71-member staff that occupies much of the 21st floor inside Tampa’s Suntrust Building.

Advertising accounted for another $4.7 million. The agency’s travel budget was $111,518, which is low, compared to the travel budget for Pinellas County’s government tourism agency.

Visit Tampa Bay also pays a Tallahassee lobbyist $28,000 a year to protect its interests.

This year, that lobbyist has his work cut out for him. Corcoran is already in a pitched battle with the Governor over the Speaker’s desire to dissolve Visit Florida, and now he has his sights set on Visit Tampa Bay as another source of what he considers wasteful spending of tax dollars.

The salaries and other financial spending information released Wednesday may serve to add fuel to that fire, rather than appeasing the Speaker as Corrada hopes will happen.

“Hopefully, he won’t work his way to us, he’ll work his way to the industry, and to be quite honest, our results speak for themselves.  You know what those results are,” Corrada said.

In a letter to lawmakers, Corrada claims his agency is responsible for bringing in 20 million visitors annually to Hillsborough County, who spend $45.6 billion here.

Corrada was more modest when questioned about that accomplishment.

“Of course there are lots of variables that contribute to that visitation,” Corrada said.


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