An A-list of movers and shakers from throughout the Tampa Bay area came together at the Museum of Science and Industry on Oct. 29 for what was billed as a not-so-average evening out.

Some 400 leaders from both the public and private sector attended the first-ever Tampa Innovation Alliance Gathering, an affair that officially set in motion an effort to revitalize 25,000 acres in North Tampa, a district bound by Bearss Avenue/Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to the north, Busch Boulevard to the south, and Interstates 275 and 75 to the east and west.

Poverty and crime is rampant in much of the region and many of the residents are transient, hence earning it the moniker of “Suitcase City.”

“Our goal is to build a live, work, play, study and stay district,” said Mark Sharpe, former Hillsborough County Commissioner turned executive director of the nonprofit Tampa Innovation Alliance, which formed in 2011, and formally kicked off the effort in January of this year.

The purpose of the recent gathering was to celebrate the five anchor institutions that have since come on board in support of building an innovative, vibrant district to be viewed as a destination point rather than a thoroughfare used to travel to other places.

The University of South Florida, Busch Gardens, Florida Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and RD Management, owners of the University Mall, are among them.

Busch Gardens President Jim Dean is chairman of the alliance, which so far also has garnered 39 community partners and 100 members.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Dean said. “It’s going to change the landscape of the area.”

USF President Judy Genshaft is equally enthusiastic about the community’s positive response to the effort.

“Four years ago when we started talking about creating the alliance, we weren’t sure people knew what we were talking about,” she said. “We’re now on the move. Stay tuned.”

Jack Kolosky, executive vice president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center, likened the project to H. Lee Moffitt’s dogged effort to establish the center, now the third-largest cancer institute in the world.

“He had the vision and fought hard to see it come to fruition,” Kolosky said. “We will do the same hard work to make these big dreams happen.”

Roger Hirschhorn, a RD Management principal, said he’s been asked on several occasions why in 2014 his company purchased the then struggling University Mall.

“Look around, I tell them. We’ve got Busch Gardens that draws five million visitors a year, and then there’s Moffitt Cancer Center. The list goes on,” he said.

Bruce Katz, vice president and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program — whom Sharpe described as one of the world’s leading thinkers on how cities can create an environment that fosters economic development — was the evening’s keynote speaker.

“I have never seen so much positive energy in a room,” said Katz, noting the tremendous value of having such highly valued anchors as the economic drivers of Tampa’s innovation alliance.

Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura, who also was among the dignitaries at the event, said he, too, felt the strong sense of synergy from those in the crowd.

“The TIA is going to elevate and brand this region to a level that it has never been before,” he said. “The formation of the TIA will provide the structure and partnerships which were previously non-existent.”


Joyce McKenzie can be reached at