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Chamber's new digs needs fun, mayor

By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 7, 2002

A trip to the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce soon will be less of a trip for many of its members.

In August, the chamber plans to move south from its obscure headquarters near First United Methodist Church of Land O'Lakes. The new digs will be closer to where U.S. 41 intersects with State Road 54, near Stevens Pools. And closer to the heart of the business district.

"We wanted to have a better location to more aggressively promote members closer to 54 and 41," said Kathy Dunkley, the chamber's executive director. She said the chamber is so far north now that members who want to visit have to plan a trip. "We're kind of in the boondocks."

The current building, which is a little more than 1,000 square feet, lacks space for storage and large meetings. And the board recently increased from 15 to 18 members, so meetings are a tight fit.

The new headquarters is a converted house and features a large meeting room. The extra space also will benefit home-based business owners who wanted to sponsor chamber mixers but had no place to have them.

"This will allow the chamber to benefit them even though they don't have a storefront," Dunkley said.

However, the site needs work.

Windows need replacing, and a paint job wouldn't hurt, either. The kitchen also needs to be ripped out.

"I think we're going to have a demolition derby of sorts," said the chamber's new president, Muriel Dakers.

* * *

Dakers, who took office in June, wants to "bring some fun back into the chamber."

Old timers fondly remember murder mystery theaters and laugh hysterically over Gong Show nights.

"In the old days, it was just incredible," Dakers said.

On Gong Show nights, members would put on their best acts. If the judges were displeased, they would interrupt it with a big bang "and that was end of your little skit," Dakers said with a laugh.

On the serious side, Dakers, a real estate agent who also is program manager for the Purple Heart Society, wants to build membership and be a voice for smart growth.

The Scotland native moved to Tampa in the mid 1980s. When it came time to settle down, she chose Land O'Lakes because of its rural atmosphere.

And rural it was then. There was one supermarket, and no Kmart.

New stores and restaurants are popping up all over the newly widened SR 54, and the wider U.S. 41 is sure to bring even more.

Dakers wants to make sure the chamber is there to help new businesses succeed and current businesses thrive. But it's ultimately up to the owners.

"We can only do so much," she said. "They need to participate in meetings and in the community."

* * *

When the new businesses do open, who are they going to call to perform the ceremonial ribbon cutting?

The honorary mayor has traditionally done the honors, but that tradition could die soon.

The application deadline for the post came and went last month, with no takers.

"We have no one," Dunkley said. "Not one person has even called. Everybody's too busy."

Dunkley said she has no explanation for the sudden lack of interest this year.

Last year, three candidates ran campaigns, which essentially are fundraisers for the chamber and charities.

Winner Joyce Miguel raised about $6,300 in her quest for the job last year. Of that, 10 percent went to the Pasco Food Bank.

Miguel said even she didn't exactly volunteer to run last year. Her boss told her "it's your turn."

At first, the task seemed daunting. But once Miguel began she had fun.

"People tend to think it's a lot harder than it is," she said. "You've got to think of it as an adventure."

To raise money, Miguel sponsored game show parties, a candle sale, a raffle and a day for kids to play on inflatable games.

Each event was targeted toward a different group: neighbors, customers, relatives and friends.

Since she was named mayor at the Flapjack Festival in November, Miguel displays a plaque on her desk at SunTrust Bank and wears a special name tag.

"I'm very proud that I was honorary mayor," she said.

Dunkley said chamber officials plan to meet next week if no candidates come forward.

"We need to have an honorary mayor. If I have to, I'll go door to door and get down on my knees and beg. We can't let this die."

-- Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or toll free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com

More information

For information about the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce or about the honorary mayor's race, call (813) 996-5522.

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