Tampa Downtown Partnership picks winners for Urban Excellence Awards

Great ideas -- big and small -- add to a community, from creating a new shopping or dining experience to inventing a shake named after a pop star during her first appearance in Tampa (rapper-singer Lizzo would even appear in-person to purchase it and Instagram herself with it). 

Recognizing such standout idealizations-turned-realizations, the Tampa Downtown Partnership recently gave out 10 Urban Excellence Awards to the people, businesses, and organizations that have added a special something-something to downtown culture. 

Here are the categories and award winners:
  • Activating Public Spaces Award: Channel District Community Alliance (CDCA);
  • Arts & Culture Award: The Straz Center’s inclusion of Hamilton & Arts Legacy Remix;
  • Downtown Collaboration Award: 13 Ugly Men Foundation Inc.;
  • Downtown Experience Award: Lizzo Freak Shake by Bake’n Babes;
  • Landmark Development Award: Sparkman Wharf;
  • Marketplace Award: Indie Flea Tampa at Armature Works;
  • Private Sector Award: All for Transportation;
  • Public Sector Award: Clean Air Fair by the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County;
  • People’s Choice Award: “Because of Sam The Movie” Premiere at Tampa Theatre;
  • Christine M. Burdick Person of the Year Award: Dave Burton.

Person of the Year Burton owns Tampa Pizza Co., Flock and Stock in Sparkman Wharf, and GenX Tavern, and is a partner in Holy Hog BBQ and SoFresh.  

“He has always inspired me to give back and be an active member of our community. I can’t think of anyone more deserving,” Bake ‘n Babes co-owner/fellow award recipient Julie Curry posted on her Facebook page.

Because the Urban Excellence winners aren’t the type to rest on their laurels, expect big things to come. 

Winner Rosey Williams, co-organizer of the Tampa Indie Flea, shared that she’s launching a new concept at Armature Works in January 2020. “It’s an Indie Flea spin on a farmer’s market,” she said after the awards, adding that the new concept will “be a seasonal progressive fresh market of sorts.”

The former St. Petersburg business owner and now the matriarch of local makers and retail entrepreneurs showed Tampa that her heart doesn’t just beat for the Burg. 

“I love the dynamic between the businesses that have become institutions in Tampa by being open for 100-plus years and the new businesses, pop-ups and projects that are launching, keeping things really fresh in Tampa,” Williams said. “I also love how it's common for Tampa neighborhoods to honor historic buildings and highlight them, making it a big part of the feel and experience of the city.” 

What about life outside downtown?

“I think what's going on with the potential redevelopment of Westshore Mall and Midtown will be interesting to watch,” Burton said.

Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Person of the Year also offered some advice going forward: Invest in public transit.

“We still are in need of better transit options for locals and tourists to get around so I'm anxiously waiting to see what gets accomplished on that front, especially with the All For Transportation funds.”

Because of Sam

Perhaps the most heartwarming award went to Renee Warmack for her film  Because of Sam, a documentary about long-time PDQ fast-food restaurant team member Sam Piazza, who has Down syndrome. 

The documentary shows how Piazza overcame bullying, won Homecoming King at Gaither High School, and is now a well-known advocate for people with disabilities. The film follows Piazza’s journey from birth to the present day, and includes testimonials of people he inspired.
In a news release, Warmack calls the film a homegrown story about a hometown hero that will transform how the world views people with disabilities, and inspire all people to pursue their dreams.

Indeed, the more access and understanding we all provide one another, the more options for variety and greatness we can expect from the community.

“Tampa is a very accessible city geographically, which seems to enable patrons from surrounding Florida cities to travel here for recreation, leisure, shopping and events,” Williams said.
“From the start of our Tampa market three years ago, we’ve seen an incredible turnout of local and traveling patrons who support makers and artisans and truly keep them in business by shopping with them at Tampa Indie Flea, consistently. We deeply appreciate that.”
Burton agreed that an influx of social settings; enjoying events that are artistically, intellectually or aesthetically fulfilling; or, simply, having more opportunities for play and exercise have all played a part in Tampa’s developing success story.

“I think it's such an exciting time to be in Tampa,” Burton says. “We are now on people's radar as far as interesting or great cities to potentially live, and I'm not so sure you could say that 15, 10, or even five years ago.”

The process for selecting award winners

The awards were presented at a lively Nov. 6 gala, presented on a stage set up inside and outside the Tampa Museum of Art. The event featured Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO Lynda Remund and Hillsborough County Schools Spokesperson Grayson Kamm presenting 2019’s Urban Excellence Award statues designed by Modulo Design Studio. 
Finalists were chosen through a three-step process. First, the Tampa Downtown Partnership invited the public to submit nominations for each category. When the nomination period closed, each submission was considered based on the criteria set within each category. Finally, a panel of jurors, represented by a cross-section of downtown constituencies, evaluated the nominations on a scale of 1-10 based on the criteria and their relation to six topics; innovation, creativity, engagement, sustainability, advancement, and impact.

The awards jury:
  • Sean Baraoidan, Real Building Consultants
  • Frank Grebowski, European Wax Center
  • Jennifer Malone, Hillsborough County Planning Commission
  • Kevin Plummer, Tampa Preparatory School
Tampa Downtown Partnership staff:
  • Shaun Drinkard, Senior Director of Public Programming and Operations
  • Kacie Blucher, Business Manager
  • Ashly Anderson, Director of Marketing and Design
  • Karen Kress, Director of Transportation and Planning
  • Michele Smith, Operations Coordinator
  • Ivy Lupco, Events Coordinator
  • Lynda Remund, President and CEO
  • Lindsey Parks, Director of Membership and Public Affairs 
  • Rachel Radawec, Placemaking and Community Engagement Manager
For more information, visit the Tampa Downtown Partnership website.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.