Jim Dean has resigned as interim president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, effective April 12.
Dean, who previously held leadership positions at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld, served about two months in the top job at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, a department of Pinellas County government and the official tourism marketing and management organization for the St. Petersburg and Clearwater area.
Barry Burton, Pinellas County administrator, wrote in a memo to the county commission that Dean resigned to accept another position.
“Jim said it was a difficult decision, but he has a rare opportunity to lead an organization in his home town. I want to thank Jim for coming to Pinellas County and assuming the interim position and wish him well in his new position,” the April 9 memo said.
The county last month hired Searchwide Global, which specializes in finding leadership talent in the tourism sector, to begin a national search for a permanent CEO.
Burton told the St. Pete Catalyst that he expects to begin interviewing candidates as soon as the end of this month, and he wants to the process to be open and transparent.
“We will invite the public and hoteliers to interview the candidates … similar to the process when they hired me,” said Burton, who has been on the job since October.
Dean was brought on board after the resignation of long-time department head David Downing. Burton said he’s not concerned about the turnover in the position, which he called a “plum job” for any industry leader.
“This is a very visible position,” Burton said. “Tourism is a key part of our economy and we want to make sure we have a broad reach and select the best candidate out there.”
Dean had more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality, travel and tourism industries. He was president of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island from 2010 to 2017, and was president of SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica and Discovery Cove after that. He also has been an advisor and board member of several local organizations including Tampa bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, the USF Muma College of Business and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
“I knew it was a risk by conducting an extensive search process that he may find another position equal to the one he’s been in but it is imperative that it be an open process,” Burton said.
While the recruitment process for a permanent CEO is taking place, Paul Sacco will be interim president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Burton said. Sacco has been an assistant county administrator who now is also moving into the position of director of solid waste.
Joe Lauro will take on the role of interim assistant county administrator overseeing Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and other departments.
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater plays a key role in the local economy. The department, together with the Tourist Development Council, is responsible for making recommendations to the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners on matters relating to the tourist development tax. That tax is used for promotion and development of tourism, which is a major industry in Pinellas County.