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Designers give spandex a new look

The duo with a unique style touts Tampa Bay, the host of the 2009 Super Bowl.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published February 4, 2007


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Amidst the chaos of Super Bowl week, organizers of the 2009 game are trying to draw some attention to Tampa Bay.

Who better to help with that than a Childs Park company called conceptBAIT?

"It's very important to make a good impression," said Krista Soroka as she stood in the Tampa Bay pavilion at Super Bowl XLI media headquarters.

The Tampa Bay film commissioner and media liaison said the pavilion stands out and credits conceptBAIT, the St. Petersburg event decor company that added its trademark spandex touches to the Miami Beach Convention Center venue.

"It took a while to sell it to people because they'd say, 'Oh, spandex? I wore that in the '80s,' " said Frank Clemente, one of the principals of conceptBAIT, the name of which is supposed to suggest allure, not fishing.

In Miami, Clemente and partner Lynn McGhee created 12-foot spandex palm trees, but they've used the material in hundreds of other ways to augment lighting, draping, floral and other techniques to make a room over for an event.

The rest of the Miami booth creates a relaxed, earth-tone living room atmosphere for visitors to learn about Tampa Bay.

Ironically, Clemente and McGhee got their start in Miami but left there for the bay area and are returning in triumph. Their story is rags to riches in spandex.

McGhee, a former costume designer, was the inspiration and namesake behind Lynn's Custom Creations, the precursor of conceptBAIT. Stressing style over business acumen, McGhee got caught in a power struggle with investors and was forced out of his own company in 2000.

He said it was time to move on anyway, so he and interior designer Clemente headed north, first to Ybor City and then Carrollwood before settling on Childs Park.

"Here, we have maybe seven decor companies," McGhee said. "In Miami, there were seven on one block."

McGhee said the South Beach competition was stealing his designs, but executing them poorly, diminishing the look.

But when they moved, they had to borrow $500 to start their business and actually ran their accounting on borrowed computers at the public library.

Clemente said their decision to move north has proved wise as they now do triple the annual sales of the best year they had in Miami.

"I told Lynn, if we move, you'll be more famous, you'll be more financially secure, and we'll go back and rub their faces in it," Clemente said.

The men and their staff of 11 now do high-end events, like the inauguration party for Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, or Dick Cheney's 2004 inauguration.

They've also done parties for new housing developments, charity fundraisers and upscale weddings. Clemente said some affairs can run up a tab as high as $240,000.

A large part of their business comes from renting table and chair covers made from spandex.

The material never wrinkles, McGhee said, and takes on a unique shape that creates atmosphere instead of a patch.

"It's a lot easier to try to transform a room than to cover it up," said McGhee, who has been known to do such odd things as put sod on a reception table or create an island in the middle of a city.

The men said they've enjoyed going back to their stomping grounds but are happier in Childs Park than they had been elsewhere.

"St. Pete just has that vibe, that edge," Clemente said. "The artsy young people are here."

Though they still get calls about fishing lures, the men said their event reputation is spreading throughout the state.

They have bookings already extending into 2010.

Soroka said the Tampa Bay Super Bowl booth stands out next to that of Miami and next year's host, Glendale, Ariz.

She said NFL representatives asked her where they could get some of the spandex palms.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com .

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 20:51:11]


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