The Davis Islands Chamber of Commerce will shut down May 31, according to a letter from a chamber official to Tampa’s mayor.
Ken Elmore, the chamber’s immediate past president, revealed the non-profit business group’s decision in a letter to Mayor Bob Buckhorn on April 25. The chamber has no paying members, and no one is interested in becoming an officer in the face of its financial problems, he wrote.
“This is an unfortunate turn of events but the only option we have,” Elmore wrote.
A $14,000 debt to the city was amassed when the chamber agreed to sponsor the Tampa Bay Seafood Festival last year. The event, which took place in March 2012 at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, was organized by Bill Sharpe, a local activist and former member of the Davis Islands chamber.
Sharpe explained to the chamber board of directors that having a non-profit as a sponsor would make contributions to the festival tax-deductible, as well as make it easier to obtain a beer and wine license from the city for the event.
The chamber agreed to sponsor the festival because Sharpe “was raising money for the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Aquatics budget, which the chamber believes to be a wonderful cause,” Elmore wrote.
Sharpe, then publisher of South Tampa Community News and Tampa Epoch, killed himself in April 2012.
The chamber did not realize its name was used to sign off on insurance paperwork, park permits and security contracts, Elmore said. After Sharpe’s death, the chamber received invoices from the city and the insurance company. The chamber owed money for fire marshal fees and costs related to hiring park staff and police officers the day of the festival.
The chamber paid a $3,400 bill for the insurance premium, but was left with $900 in its bank account and was unable to pay the remaining debts, Elmore wrote.
“The chamber members have certainly enjoyed supporting the City of Tampa and Davis Islands initiatives over the years,” he said.
Greg Bayor, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the city can’t do anything to collect on the debt after the chamber closes for good.
“There’s nothing to go after,” he said.
The chamber was formed in 2000, and typically had between 30 and 50 active members, Elmore said in the letter. He could not be reached for comment.
In February, the Davis Islands Alliance formed. The business group aimed to fill what its members perceived as a void left by the troubled chamber. The group plans to focus on branding, networking and professional skills workshops that will help attract more businesses and customers to the islands’ business district.
Cary Collier, a founding member of the alliance and a Davis Islands resident, said the group was sorry to hear about the chamber’s dissolution and will reach out to the chamber’s members.
“We’re saddened to see the chamber dissolve,” she said. “We were looking forward to working with them and doing some good things for our community.”