David Downing is on his second stint in Pinellas County. After spending 14 years in Manhatten, Downing returned to St. Pete 11 years ago to steer the ship that is Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. The regional marketing powerhouse has fundamentally changed the way that visitors view and interact with Pinellas County - and put the area on the map as one of the most impressive destinations in the Southeast. Downing and his staff have grown the St. Pete/Clearwater brand to a nationally recognized hotspot beyond just its recognizable beaches. Downing has helped promote St. Pete/Clearwater's story as a mecca of tech, food, art, and more.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
President and CEO of Visit St. Pete/ Clearwater, other major organizations in the Tampa Bay area.
What gets you out of bed every day?
Health, honestly. If you wake and you feel good enough to get out of bed and go attack the day, everything else is subordinate to that. It’s not supposed to be a twee answer, but I know people who thought they had good health and a few months later they had very bad health – it’s something that’s top of mind with me.
Why St. Pete?
I lived in Manhattan for 14 years before this, and for for 11 years before that I lived in St Pete. For what I do for tourism marketing, there’s nothing more exciting than being able to build and shape a brand as it emerges. New York City is a brand already. To try to move that ship is nearly impossible. The emerging brand is St. Pete and Clearwater, and this whole destination is just so exciting because it’s something that’s still growing. It’s still finding out who it is, and you still have a lot of sway in the direction and the feel and the taste and the look and the gestalt of what it means to be here.
What is one habit that you keep?
Family. I come from a large family and my dad’s 92 and a World War II vet. He’s badass, and he could still kick my butt or drink me under the table; do both on the same night. Lives alone. Cooks, cleans, drives. I’ve got 22 nieces and nephews, and eight brothers and sisters. It sounds crazy to say it’s a habit – but it’s just something you get used to, and you make time to do.
Who are some people that influence you?
I just mentioned my dad. I hope he’s not listening. Well, he could be listening, you know, I bought him an iPad…
I’m a musician as well, and I get very excited by musicians, both old and new, I think Chet Baker for what he did and his challenges and his successes all the way up to someone like Alicia Keys. I’ve just always been a huge, huge fan of what she does and who she is and how she inhabits who she is.
I’m a fan of Jane Austen. What she was doing at the time she was doing it was considered scandalous. She was a female novelist in the age of romantic poets. She even grew what it meant to be a novelist and to poke fun at the rules and society and the economics and the caste and the class system in so many things that she just did so beautifully. So tongue and cheek, just took down in ways that they didn’t realize they were taken down. I love her subversiveness.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
It’s a phrase that I come back to a lot, and it’s “authority versus experience,” and I see it a lot in everything all the time publicly, privately in politics and business and restaurants. You know, oftentimes people think authority trumps experience; just because you have the authority to do this doesn’t give you the experience to back it up. I think the two of them in concert together is an awesome thing, but separately they can be very dangerous.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
I think the level of economic growth over the last three years has just been extraordinary, and I think it started before that, and I think we are realizing the engine is humming now.
I’m excited for the Tampa Bay area. I’m excited for St Pete-Clearwater. I’m excited for the destination. You know, I’ve traveled the world a lot for my job. There are two things people know about Florida, Mickey and Miami, and they’re great destinations for completely different reasons. I think until this area understands the power of this brand, until we come together and we realize, and we make it a reality that we have what it takes to be, and we start behaving and communicating like we are that destination … that’s what I look forward to.