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Miller steps down as Tampa area's top tourism promoter

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:41 AM

After less than a year as the region’s top tourism promoter, Kelly Miller is out as president and CEO of Tampa Bay & Company, the organization in charge of promoting the area to tourists and business travelers.

The departure of Miller, 55, comes as Tampa looks to reap rewards from the area’s largest-ever public event: the Republican National Convention this summer.

"Kelly Miller has resigned as President/CEO of Tampa Bay & Company," said a letter to board members and staff written by Jim Dean, chairman of Tampa Bay & Company and chief executive at Busch Gardens. "You are all doing a fantastic job to market, sell and promote this amazing destination, and we couldn’t do this so well without your support, hard work and pride in Tampa Bay & Company."

In a follow-up interview, Dean had nothing but compliments for Miller.

Dean’s initial letter to staff included no statement from Miller, though a follow-up press release included this quote from Miller: "I’m at a time in my life when I had to make some very tough personal choices for the well-being of both myself and my family, which ultimately led to my decision to step down," Miller said. "We have a fantastic staff, management team and board of directors at Tampa Bay & Company. Through their leadership, I have no doubt that Tampa Bay will continue to shine and build upon the momentum we achieved from hosting the RNC."

Founded in 1985, Tampa Bay & Company takes the lead in recruiting tourists and business travelers to the area. It has roughly $10 million in annual funding, with 82 percent from "bed taxes" charged through hotel room rentals, 7 percent from membership fees and events, and the rest from marketing contracts, sales and partnerships.

Miller’s hiring was announced in October 2011, and he began work Jan. 1, putting him right in the mix for the RNC, which brought in more than 50,000 visitors and put this area on an international stage. Dean complimented Miller’s work during the RNC.

On Wednesday, Dean said the group will begin a national search for a new president/CEO. In the meantime, the board named current Chief Financial Officer Greg Orchard as acting president and CEO.

Miller had brought a deep resume in tourism, including 12 years leading the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau in North Carolina, and helping promote the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Upon arriving in Tampa, he soon announced a drive to research a new identity for Tampa Bay, something he saw as lacking, and he pointed to the specificity some cities have in their brands, such as Las Vegas or New Orleans. At the time, he said such a brand study could take 18 months and cost $200,000 if done well.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who serves on the Tampa Bay & Company board, offered comments of support for Miller.

"Under Kelly’s leadership, our community successfully held the largest event in Tampa Bay’s history," Hagan said in a statement. "His energy and enthusiasm will be missed."

rmullins@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7919 Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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