Spotlight Tampa Bay

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  • Date: August 16, 2023 Wed
  • Time: 5:30 pm
  • Location: Hough Hall
  • Tickets: $30-$40

$30 in advance, $40 at the door. Includes one drink (wine, beer, or non-alcoholic), light appetizers, and a gift.
NOTE: Tickets are available only through

All proceeds from this event will benefit Tampa Bay Times Journalism Fund.

Join us for a community conversation centered on housing in Tampa Bay. This thought-provoking discussion is designed to bring together individuals who are passionate about development and housing and eager to contribute to meaningful change.

Our panel of distinguished experts, renowned in the field of planning and development, will share their knowledge, insights and experiences, making this an extraordinary opportunity to gain valuable perspectives and engage in stimulating discussions. From housing affordability to sustainable urban development, our panelists will shed light on the multifaceted aspects of housing in Tampa Bay.

This event promises to be a dynamic and interactive experience. You will have a chance to submit your questions in advance.

5:00 PM: Check-in and Registration
5:30 PM: Conversation Begins

Our Panel Includes:
Melissa Zornitta, AICP is the Executive Director of the Hillsborough County City-County Planning commission, serving in that role since January 2015. In this capacity, she manages the long range, comprehensive planning for unincorporated Hillsborough County, City of Tampa, City of Temple Terrance and Plant city. Ms. Zornitta has over 18 years of experience working in land use planning, comprehensive planning and community planning for local governments in Florida. Before becoming Executive Director, Ms. Zornitta held a number of progressively responsible planning positions with the Planning commission, including serving as Assistant Director for three years. Prior to working at the Planning Commission, she worked for the City of St. Petersburg, Charlotte County and City of Tallahassee. Ms. Zornitta holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government from the College of William and Mary and a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Florida State University. Ms. Zornitta is currently the Past President of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, serving as the President from 2014-2016. Previously she served as the President Elect, Vice President of Section Affairs for the Chapter and chair of the local Sun Coast Section.

Bob Buckhorn, Executive Vice President and Principal U.S. Cities Practice for Shumaker Advisors Florida – With a long history of service in the City of Tampa, Bob is Executive Vice President and Principal U.S. Cities Practice for Shumaker Advisors Florida, where he provides communications strategy, public affairs consulting, and business development services across Florida. In his role, he remains focused on economic development opportunities and urban development strategies, while working with clients to improve the overall quality of life in the community.

Bob served as the Mayor of Tampa, Florida from 2011 to 2019, where he led more than 4,300 dedicated, hard-working, and forward-thinking civil servants. As mayor, Bob led Tampa out of the largest recession since the Great Depression. Facing a $30 million deficit upon taking office, he annually balanced Tampa’s billion-dollar budget eight straight years and made strategic investments in infrastructure to prepare Tampa for the future. One of Bob’s first acts as mayor was to create a diverse panel of local business people and community activists to help reshape how City Hall does business. Bob spearheaded the development of the Invision Plan, a blueprint for the development of our urban core, and he successfully worked with the Obama Administration to secure a grant to complete the Tampa Riverwalk. Under his leadership, Bob set a tone of inclusiveness in Tampa as the city acted as a pioneer for equality by establishing one of Florida’s first Domestic Partnership Registries and Tampa has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign with a perfect 100 percent score on its Municipal Equality Index.

Jeff Brandes, Founder & President, Florida Policy Project – Senator Jeff Brandes is a highly respected and accomplished leader who served in the Florida Legislature from 2010 to 2022. He represented District 24, which covered a majority of Pinellas County, and was know for his innovative and independent policy-making. Throughout his tenure, he consistently advocated for solutions to address Florida’s most challenging issues. Jeff has been an advocate for improving Florida’s corrections system, insurance regulation, affordable housing and transportation. Brandes is a strong advocate for free market principles and has worked to reduce regulations and taxes to promote business development in Florida. He is a vocal supporter of cutting-edge technologies and has played a vital role in the state’s advancing self-driving vehicles, rideshare, and other emerging technologies. For over a decade, he has hosted the Florida Automated Vehicle Summit, which assembles industry leaders from around the country to address transportation technologies, operations, and policy issues.

Brandes is a veteran, having served as an Army officer in the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. This experience game him a unique perspective on leadership and public service. He has also advocated for prison reform, worked to increase public safety through improvements in the criminal justice system, and was a leader in property insurance reform. In addition to is legislative duties, Brandes is a business owner and services on the boards of several community organizations. He is dedicated to making Florida a better place to live, work and raise a family. Since leaving office, he has founded the Florida Policy Project, which researches best practices across different policy areas to inform state policy-making.

Rebecca Liebson, Tampa Bay Times Real Estate Reporter. As a real estate reporter, I cover one of the hottest industries in the Tampa Bay area and delve into how the market impacts the lives of the people who live here. Like many Florida converts, I grew up in a suburban town outside of New York City. Before arriving in Tampa I spent two years in South Carolina where I reported on affordable housing issues.

Michael Van Sickler. As assistant managing editor/news, I oversee breaking news, criminal justice, business, health, environment, state and local government and politics, and education. I’ve been with the Times since 2003. I was promoted to assistant managing editor in August 2022. This bustling region of more than 3 million has changed dramatically since I covered it more than a decade ago as a growth and development reporter. Back then, our local economy was so badly shaken by the Great Recession, it would have been difficult to imagine the teeming downtowns and rising property values of today. I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and moved to the Sunshine State to attend the University of Florida. Since then, I’ve called Lakeland, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Tallahassee home.

About Spotlight Tampa Bay Community Conversation Series
Spotlight Tampa Bay is designed to foster meaningful dialogue and engage our community on issues that impact the way we live, work and play in Tampa Bay. Each community conversation will feature a panel of industry leaders, representing varying viewpoints on the topic at hand, alongside reporters and editors at the Tampa Bay Times. Attendees can expect a dynamic and interactive discussion, with ample opportunity to participate in a Q&A session.

Presented by Tampa Bay Times.

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