Downtown Tampa’s Urban Excellence Awards: A Night of Legacy and Honor

This year’s Tampa Downtown Partnership Urban Excellence Awards was a night full of elegance, legacy, leadership, and honor. With the retirement announcement of the Partnership’s CEO and President of 15 years made just a month prior to the event, it came as no surprise that there was a focus on Christine Burdick’s lasting impact on Tampa’s Downtown.

Held in the heart of downtown at The Vault, even the location signified a new chapter in Tampa’s history as the Wilson Co., a real estate firm that owns the Franklin Exchange building including The Vault and CW’s Gin Joint, recently announced their purchase of the historic city block containing the old S.H. Kress & Co. department store for $9 million. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the transaction a major step in the right direction for Tampa’s urban transformation.


Brendan McLaughlin, former news anchor at WFTS TV and the evening’s emcee, opened the awards ceremony reflecting on the fact that it was the 11th Annual Urban Excellence Awards. “At the first Urban Excellence Awards event the word ‘urban’ would have been put into quotations and the word ‘excellence,’ well, it was more like mediocre at the time,” said McLaughlin to a room of laughing and nodding attendees. This all changed over the years because of trailblazers like those receiving awards and daring leaders like Christine Burdick.


The 2017 Downtown Person of the Year award was presented to Christine M. Burdick by Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Chairman, Mickey Jacob. In an emotional speech, Jacob recounted the many programs and services the Partnership created and implemented under Burdick’s 15-year tenure, including; the Downtowner free ride service, Coast Bike Share, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the relocation of Tampa Museum of Art, City of Tampa’s InVision Tampa Masterplan, the launch of Tampa Historic Streetcar, Winter Village, and numerous others. He reminded the crowd that the impact of her work will touch the lives of everyone in Downtown for generations to come.

In honor of Burdick’s legacy and visionary spirit, Jacob announced that the Downtown Person of the Year Award – with recipients like Maryann Ferenc and Jeff Vinik – will now be known as the Christine M. Burdick Downtown Leadership Award.


Each year an awards jury representing a cross-section of downtown constituencies selects award winners who have made significant contributions that have made a lasting and positive impact on Downtown. Awardees are honored for their leadership, innovation, hard work, talent, and community spirit. This year’s panel of awards jurors included Robbie Arts of the Tampa Bay Rays, Laura Crouch of Tampa Electric Company, Susie Nelson-Crowley of Keller Williams Tampa Central, Robin Nigh of the City of Tampa, Kevin Plummer of Tampa Preparatory School, and the Chair of the Awards Panel for his eleventh and final year was Rich Linquanti of Carlton Fields.

Public Sector Project Award Winner: Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. Memorial Dog Park

Public sector projects can have a profound impact on way we experience downtowns and the Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. Memorial Dog Park is a prime example. When Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After they learned about the strong bond between Deputy Kotfila’s and his German Shepard, Dexter, the THEA team decided to dedicate the first Selmon Greenway Pocket Park as a dog park in his honor.

Private Sector Project Award Winner: The Art of the Brick

Private investment creates some of the most dynamic activities in an urban core. That is certainly true of The Art of the Brick. This summer the Vinik Family Foundation invited Tampa Bay to experience a captivating exhibition featuring artworks made exclusively from one of the world’s most recognizable toys, the LEGO brick, by award winning artist Nathan Sawaya. Designed to inspire ingenuity and creativity, The Art of the Brick is the world’s largest and most elaborate display of LEGO brick art featuring more than 100 artworks. The collection featured original sculptures, as well as re-imagined versions of iconic art masterpieces made of LEGOs. Over 100,000 people enjoyed the exhibit during its installation.

Downtown Detail Award Winner: The Riverwalk at Doyle Carlton Public Art Installations

Public art transforms spaces and creates renewed excitement in the urban core. Some of downtown’s most exciting new additions are the art installations at the Doyle Carlton segment of the Riverwalk, which provide free public access to excellence in art. Just a short walk from Waterworks Park to the Tampa Museum, visitors will see gorgeous sculptures and a colorful glass installation. Andante by artist, Heidi Lippman, is a series of laminated tempered glass panels spanning 200 linear feet underneath Interstate I-275. And, under the Laurel Street Bridge, the artwork, Woven Waves, features ‘folded’ ceramic steel panels to create a lenticular effect that changes with the viewer’s movement.

Historic Preservation Award Winner: The 100th Anniversary of the Burgert Brothers Historic Photo Collection

Burgert Brothers photographs have appeared in national publications including Life and National Geographic magazines. After their Ybor Studio closed, their photographs and negatives were stored in a South Tampa garage. Heat, humidity and moisture destroyed many of the negatives. In 1974, the Friends of the Library Hillsborough, Inc., recognized the priceless, historic significance of the collection and purchased it so that the photographs would be available to the public. The Burgert Brothers Photographic Collection is an archive of approximately 17,000 images from the late 1890s to the mid-1960s and is preserved by the John F. Germany Public Library. The Library has scanned thousands of photographs, with the ongoing scanning process making hundreds more of the Burgert photographs digitally available each month.

Arts and Culture Award Winner: Second Screen Cult Cinema

For nearly three years, Second Screen Cult Cinema has screened unconventional, underappreciated, and unforgettable cult films at The Vault. Launched in February 2015 by a group of friends and cinephiles entrenched in the local arts scene, the monthly event has been called the Tampa Bay area’s “swankiest film series” by Steve Persall of Tampa Bay Times for giving adult movie-goers a refreshingly unique cinematic experience. Second Screen co-founders and co-curators Ann-Eliza Musoke Taylor and Michael Martz, who both introduce each screening and lead an engaging post-credits discussion, created the series to help enrich the Tampa Bay cultural arts community and enhance Tampa’s flourishing downtown core. Events feature a cocktail hour with food, themed craft cocktails from CW’s Gin Joint, and curated music selections from local DJ talent.

Downtown Experience Award Winner: 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship / Tampa Bay Sports Commission

As the first-ever host of the College Football Playoff National Championship in the southeast, the eyes of the world were on Tampa Bay last January and our hometown’s downtown shined like never before on the biggest of stages. Over the course of four days 2017 College Football Playoff festivities took over the region and featured record-setting ancillary events in downtown including, Playoff Fan Central, Taste of the Championship, Media Day, Extra Yard for Teachers Summit, the Extra Yard 5K and AT&T Playoff Playlist LIVE!. The weekend transitioned into an unforgettable Championship game in front of a record-setting crowd at Raymond James Stadium. From an economic impact standpoint, the event produced record-setting hotel and airport numbers. The event also earned $100 million in media exposure for the area and saw one million dollars infused into our local schools via the Extra Yard for Teachers program. Most recently, the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship won the SportsTravel Award for best Sports Event of the Year, as well as Best Collegiate Single-Sport Event.

Social Impact Award Winner: I AM Priceless Mural

Tampa Bay is a hotbed for human trafficking with Florida being one of the highest ranked states in the nation for this fast-growing crime. The Junior League of Tampa has played a major role in the fight against child sex trafficking. In early 2014, the League partnered with the FREE Network to launch the ABOLISH Movement; which united more than 100 plus agencies and organizations in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties to fight human trafficking. The Junior League of Tampa looked to capture attention by incorporating social messaging through art. They wanted to create a permanent statement of hope, as well as a platform to share the message. Shades of purple and pink underscore themes of compassion, healing and hope. The vision became a reality through collaboration with the City of Tampa Arts Department, the Tampa Police Department, artist Leon “Tes One” Bedore, and survivors and advocates in the FREE Network. The mural sends a clear message – “I am not for sale. I am priceless.”

Downtown Collaboration Award Winner: Hurricane Irma Response and Relief Operations of The City of Tampa, Hillsborough Area Transit Authority, Hillsborough County and Tampa Electric Company

This year’s awardees are being honored for their incredible preparation and response efforts before, during and after Hurricane Irma, the most significant storm threat to the Tampa Bay region since Hurricane Charley in 2004. They all demonstrated outstanding planning, coordination, emergency response efforts and communications with each other and the community at large leading up to and following the storm.

Juror’s Choice Award Winner: Tampa Downtowner

The jury felt compelled to recognize the amount of collaboration and trust between the public and private sector it took to get this unique micro-transit free ride service out on the road. The service reached 185,000 passengers in the first year and carries over 500 passengers per day. Key partners include the Downtowner owners, The City of Tampa, and the Florida Department of Transportation.

People’s Choice Award Winner: Unlock Tampa Bay Visitors Center

For the fourth year the Partnership opened the awards program for a public vote to see what downtowners feel is the best of the best downtown has to offer. There was a tremendous response, with the Unlock Tampa Bay Visitors Center running away with the prize. Located on the ground floor of downtown’s Tampa City Center, the Unlock Tampa Bay Visitors Center offers the perfect souvenirs built, crafted, written and curated by local artisans and authors. Stop in for insider knowledge and to pick up a Tampa Bay CityPASS to get discounted admission on many of the area’s top attractions.

Community Spirit Award Winner: Rich Linquanti

Rich Linquanti has been a true champion and ambassador for the Downtown community and for the Urban Excellence Awards, which he helped create 11 years ago. His exceptional leadership and stewardship has helped make Downtown Tampa a great place to live, work, and play.


Tampa Downtown Partnership would like to thank our sponsors, Carlton Fields, DPR Construction, TECO, an Emera Company and The Vault and CW’s Gin Joint for sponsoring the Urban Excellence Awards.

The Urban Excellence Awards event gives the downtown community a fun and social occasion to recognize the pioneers, trailblazers and Downtown champions that have contributed to the success, transformation and revitalization of Tampa’s Downtown.

View photos from the event.