Meet the men behind the bowl: Wilson
Although he isn't involved in the day-to-day aspects of planning, Wilson is an integral part of the Super Bowl process.
By KYLE PARKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001
TAMPA -- The title sounds grand: chairman of the Super Bowl XXXV Task Force.
|[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Jack Wilson, chairman of the Super Bowl task force, led the effort to pass a half-cent Hillsborough County sales tax increase in 1996 that provided the money to build Raymond James Stadium.
But this is no cushy, show-up-at-a-few-meetings job for Tampa developer Jack Wilson.
The chairman's role isn't a full-time job; day-to-day task force operations are run by executive director Michael Kelly. But try telling that to the folks at the Wilson Co., who've seen more and more of Wilson's time gobbled up by the game.
"It's been close to nonstop for weeks," said Patsy Cooley, Wilson's assistant. "People are calling all day long. They want tickets. They want answers on who to talk to. The media wants a comment. . . . It goes on and on."
And though Kelly's staff deals with the nuts-and-bolts issues of bringing more than 100,000 people into town for one weekend, Wilson has been heavily involved. For months, Kelly has been giving Wilson weekly updates; some meetings last 10 minutes, but others go as long as two hours.
At the same time, Wilson has had his own challenge: galvanize an often-fragmented business community to support the Super Bowl with its time and its money.
The task force raised $2-million in private funds (half its total budget), while Wilson assembled a team with some of Central Florida's best-known executives to help him. Among them: lawyer Bill McBride, developer Hinks Shimberg, insurance executive Guy King and banker George Koehn.
Wilson jokes that he doesn't exactly remember when he was asked to take the job -- "I don't know if I ever had a real opportunity to think about it" -- but area business leaders say he was an obvious choice.
"Jack is so well-liked, people will say yes to him," said King, who's running the task force's transportation committee.
Like other key volunteers, such as printing executive Leonard Levy, Wilson has been involved in area sports issues for a long time. He led the effort to pass a half-cent Hillsborough County sales tax increase in 1996 that provided the money to build Raymond James Stadium.
And his Rolodex is as impressive as anyone's in the Tampa Bay area, thanks to 15 years of high-profile community involvement.
Wilson, a Georgia native who founded the Wilson Co. in 1980, runs one of the state's top commercial real estate companies. Wilson Co. has renovated and leased several prominent downtown Tampa office buildings, but its main business is building and managing affordable-housing apartment complexes -- it now has 26 in Florida, with 7,412 units.
Outside work, Wilson has been chairman of two of the area's most important economic development groups, the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He's also been involved with everything from the University of South Florida to the Floridians for Better Transportation advocacy group.
"Jack knows who is going to be there for him, and that is crucial," said Jim Steeg, senior vice president of special events for the NFL. "Who are the people you can call on a Friday at 5 that can get a problem fixed by 5:30?"
As the game gets closer, Wilson says preparations are going smoothly. But that doesn't mean he's ready to relax.
"The big unknown for us," he said, "is doing this whole thing in conjunction with Gasparilla."
Worries about traffic and parking are No. 1 on everyone's list. At its final meeting last week, the task force's transportation committee brought in Monsignor Laurence Higgins of Tampa's St. Lawrence Catholic Church to bless its efforts.
But while the task force has done everything from making plans to borrow Pinellas County cabs to figuring out the best route for the Gasparilla parade, downtown Tampa is sure to be jammed this weekend.
"Part of this, with the help of our volunteers out around town, will be managing people's expectations," Guy King said. "If you're in South Tampa the day before the Super Bowl, you're going to have a heck of a time getting around, let's face it."
King, Wilson and other volunteer leaders know a well-run weekend is crucial to Tampa Bay's chances for landing another Super Bowl in the future. "The competition is getting a lot tougher," Wilson said, "because more and more cities are getting new stadiums."
And would Wilson, 61, help run the effort if Tampa Bay got the Super Bowl again? Right now, he just wants to get through this week.
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