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Silhouettes Profiles Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez

This article originally appeared in the March. 23, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As a first-generation American, Anthony Perez doesn’t take for granted how hard his family worked when they first moved to this country. In fact, he leans on their story and their early struggles as inspiration for his banking career and his work with Tampa’s Hispanic community.
His family were milk distributors in Cuba when Fidel Castro took control of the government. He was told by his parents that for a while, they went about their business, delivering milk. But one morning, in the mid-1960s, they were greeted by men with rifles outside their home. They were told they could either work on a government-run farm or leave the country. A plane sponsored by Catholic Charities was about to take off.
His family – his young parents, just teenagers at the time, and his maternal grandparents and uncle – chose to leave. Going back into their home with just enough time to pack a bag, they were rushed to the plane that was heading for Spain.
After two years living in Spanish homes sponsored by the Catholic Church, eventually they were placed permanently in the United States and immigrated to Chicago.
When they arrived, they didn’t have much money. But they were able to purchase a single car jack and used that to start a company fixing flat tires. For years, they focused on roadside assistance, but their business grew into an auto part distribution company, Garcia’s Auto Parts – named after his maternal grandfather – which at one point had 11 warehouses throughout the city of Chicago.
Perez especially recalls one childhood conversation with his uncle that shapes him to this day. When he was about 8 years old, his uncle took him for a drive and parked on the side of a street at one of Chicago’s busiest intersections. For a while, they watched people drive and walk by. Then his uncle said to him, “I want you to look around you. See all these beautiful people – he called them beautiful people. You know why I’m covered in oil and why I’m dressed like this? So you don’t have to be.”
Perez said, “That stuck with me. It’s always inspired me, always encouraged me while growing up. I had the freedom to be what I wanted to be. I’m grateful for that kind of upbringing.”
His parents lived modestly, sacrificing to send him and his sister to private school. When he was about 10 years old, they moved to Daytona Beach because he had severe asthma. His uncle ran the auto parts company day to day, while his father helped from afar and his mother went back to school to become a nurse.
From a young age, Perez dreamed of a career in the hotel industry. “I always wanted to own my own hotel,” he said. “I wanted to be the largest franchise owner of a Marriott hotel.” Growing up, many of his birthday parties had been held poolside at Marriott hotels, his parents renting space for him and his friends to play.
So he earned a full ride to the University of Central Florida, where he earned a degree in hotel management. His parents stressed the importance of education, he added. “Education was always super important. Education is something they can never take away from you.”
While attending UCF, he was awarded a coveted four-year internship at Marriott’s Orlando World Center. He hoped this would parlay into a permanent position after college, but after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, the hospitality industry took a hit, he said. “So it wasn’t moving at the pace I was hoping for.”
Instead, he said, “Bank of America found me.” The company held annual hiring events at the Marriott. So the recruiter asked Perez if he had ever considered a career in banking.
At first, he told them he wasn’t interested. But when Bank of America returned to the Marriott the following year, he had a different answer for them.
He was chosen as one of 15 for a selective training class, and was the only one of this class hired as a branch manager and given the keys to a bank – the other trainees were hired in different roles.
After several years with Bank of America, he returned to Chicago to work for the family business. “I thought, I have a degree. I’m a banker. I know what I’m doing,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to go from your feet in the sand to your feet in the snow. On top of that, I grossly underestimated what it takes to be a business owner.”
Still, he wanted to pay his dues and help his family. But work anxiety kept him up at night and distracted him from life. Eventually he had to tell his uncle that he didn’t think the family business was a good fit for him.
His uncle, understood, and told him, “Go back to Florida, kid. This was never meant for you.”
Perez took a job as Tampa branch manager of BMO Harris Bank. He had been looking for the right company to join. “I wanted to find an organization that would invest in me,” he said, and BMO Harris not only supported his earning an MBA, but funded his education at the University of South Florida.
After 11 years with BMO Harris, he left in October, as assistant vice president, to join the Bank of Tampa as vice president of commercial relationship management. “Everybody in Tampa knows, as a banker, that if you get an opportunity to be with the Bank of Tampa, you take it,” he said.
What he has come to appreciate most about banking is the community involvement. “Each bank touts this,” he said. “But I’ve been experiencing it now more than ever with the Bank of Tampa. I’ve got to give this bank tremendous credit, because they really put their money where their mouth is.”
Last year, the bank donated more than $700,000 to 200 local nonprofit organizations. So while other banks donate funds and services to charities, Bank of Tampa has more of an impact in the Tampa Bay area directly, Perez said.
While interviewing with Bank of Tampa, he was surprised by the accessibility of the company’s CEO, founder and other higher ranked employees. He was also surprised that much of the interview process focused on his passions, rather than his resume. “They were more interested in Anthony as a person than what Anthony can bring,” he said. “Instead, it was about what can we do for Anthony to make him the best he can be.”
When hired, he was given a budget to use to contribute to community organizations and events, and has been encouraged to give his time – even if it cuts into his work hours – to participate with these groups in a hands-on capacity.
Perez has always been interested in community work. “But now I get to do it at a much higher level,” he said.
Even before joining Bank of Tampa, he became a member of the city of Tampa’s Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board nearly three years ago. He’s currently in the midst of his second year as the group’s chair.
The group’s signature event is the Latinos Unidos luncheon, which drew nearly 550 people last year and since its inception has raised more than $1.4 million for college scholarships awarded to local Hispanic students to attend USF, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. This 20th annual event will take place May 8 at The Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
Through the help of the Vinik Foundation, the advisory board will launch a new event, Cafecito 813, April 11 at the HCC campus. The event will bring together leaders of various Hispanic serving organizations for networking and collaboration. “The problem in Tampa is there are so many organizations – so many of them – and none of them collaborate together. They’re very cards to the chest,” he said. “So we’ll all come together [at Cafecito 813] and take three to five minutes to share what each organization is doing, and then see how we can work together.”
He also sits on the board of USF’s Latino Foundation, and spends his time mentoring college students. After his grandmother, Olga Garcia, passed away in January, he and his cousins established a USF scholarship in her name.
“I can barely get my family out of the house in time for church,” Perez said, “and she took the family out of Cuba, to Spain and then Chicago. She took two trains and a bus to work every day for years. I guarantee you she was never late and never missed a day. So I said, you know what? We’re going to continue her legacy through this incredible, incredible program.”
Married for five years with three children of his own, supporting local youth has become one of his biggest passions. “Now that I have children myself, I’m kind of seeing the importance of this whole inspiration for kids,” he said. “People go on about this youngest generation – they’re entitled; they’re this; they’re that; they’re connected to their cell phones.”
But this couldn’t be further from the truth, he said. “Listen, I don’t know what young generation you’re looking at, but the generation I see every day that I work with through my mentorships are amazing people who are going to change this world in ways you’ve never dream up.”
While the scholarships for these young students are important, so, too, is the connection they have with older, successful individuals who can provide one-on-one insight and assistance. “I genuinely care about these young people,” Perez said. “It’s one thing to say they’re our future. But that’s bullshit. You can’t just say that. You need to take some kind of action. The scholarships are great. The information they need – they’re in the information age. They’ll find a way to get what they need. What they need is someone to tell them they’re amazing and give them that support.”

Silhouettes Profiles Peggy Land

Peggy and her champion, Majestic Delight.

This article originally appeared in the March. 9, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As far back as Peggy Land can remember, she’s been driven by two things: justice and kindness.
“So many people are not getting justice,” she said. “If you don’t have justice, what do you have?”
Growing up in Virginia, she was “a melancholy child. I couldn’t believe how people treated one another. They didn’t take care of children; they didn’t take care of older people. They’d call it depression now, but I thought then, how can I stay in this old world?”
Her grandmother helped shake her from this melancholy. “She’d always tell me, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’” Land said. “She’d say, ‘Honey, what difference does it make 20 years from now or 10 years from now? Just don’t let things bother you.’ That made a real difference for me.”
Eventually, she became empowered enough to realize she could have an impact the world “even just smiling at someone or being kind to someone makes a difference.”
She added, “As time went on, I found my voice and realized I could make a difference.”
Today, though she’s never run for office herself, Land is a force on the political scene and serves as a staunch ally to Democratic leaders at the local, state and federal levels.
She first moved to Tampa as a junior high school student. Her father’s health was poor and her parents thought the warmer climate might help. So they moved the family to Temple Terrace.
For high school, she and her twin sister, Patricia, moved back to Richmond to live with her older sister and brother-in-law. But after graduation, they returned to Tampa, though, turning down their aunt’s offer to fund their education at Sullins College, a women’s junior college in Virginia. “My twin sister said no way she was going to a girls’ school,” Land said. “So she decided to take a business course at Tampa College. I came back down with her.”
Uncertain about what she wanted to do, Land became focused on finding work, and, at first, took a job with William’s Pharmacy in Tampa. Eventually, she enrolled at Tampa College to study business, as well. While she was still in school, she was hired as an executive secretary at a new branch of the First Federal Savings & Loan opening on Dale Mabry Highway.
She met her eventual husband, John Land, at Tampa College. “Though I didn’t even notice him at first,” she said. “All I wanted to do was get a job. I was so focused on working and career that I did not notice him.”
He kept calling her, though, and eventually her mother suggested that she ought to call him back.
After they married, he formed a real estate development company, John Land Builders. He told his wife, “If you’re going to work for anybody, you’re going to work for me.”
“I told him, ‘I think you mean with you,’” Land said.
Their first project was an affordable housing subdivision near Robinson High School. Eventually their portfolio grew to include a range of housing types from affordable homes to high-end townhomes. She worked closely with interior designers to ensure each home was customized to their clients’ tastes and requests. “I handled all the details,” she said.
Eventually, she and her husband became involved in politics, though they never desired to be candidates themselves. “[John] never wanted to run for office. He just wanted good government,” she said.
He was president of a local homebuilders association, and eventually was appointed by three different governors to the state’s construction and licensing board. This was at a time when the construction industry was ripe with corruption, and state employees were selling licenses, she said. He tried to clean up the corrupt ways, “and I thought he was going to be assassinated.”
Longtime Republicans, the couple changed their party affiliation to Democrat in 2000 in support of Jim Davis’ run for Congress. Land’s family had been Republicans – her grandfather a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, she said. “Though I don’t think he carried a big stick. He just wanted to help people.”
So when she moved back to Florida after high school, she followed her family’s lead and registered to vote as a Republican. “But as time went on, and I saw the greed and the self-serving, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m a Republican now,’” she said.
Since 2000, she has dedicated herself to the Democratic party, co-chairing the Distinguished Democrats Advisory Committee with Bill McBride. She went on to assist with McBride’s run for governor.
In addition to numerous local campaigns, she also served on finance committees for presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry, and attended both of their Democratic conventions. “I still think now what a difference it would have made if Al Gore had actually won,” Land said. “It would be a different world.”
She’s also involved with the upcoming 2018 elections, assisting with the campaign of Florida House District 60 candidate Debra Bellanti, who is facing Jackie Toledo for the seat.
Land also plans to back a Tampa mayoral candidate, but hasn’t decided which one just yet. “I’ll say this though, I won’t support anyone who doesn’t support relations with Cuba, that’s one of my top things. That and wanting to help the homeless,” she said.
In October, she visited Cuba with a group of local leaders including Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin and St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice. Land said she has always been fascinated by Cuba’s history, and was excited to experience its culture firsthand. “I’ve never had the opportunity to go before. I was taken with the architecture,” she said. She noted that other countries, including Russia and Brazil, have fostered a relationship that she wishes the United States could have. She’s disappointed by recent backward steps President Donald Trump’s administration has taken in regard to opening travel and trade with Cuba. “We’re missing out because of this ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ attitude. Cuba has so much to offer.”
She added, “I, as one individual, am going to do everything I can to promoted a closer relationship with Cuba.”
Outside of politics, Land gives back to the Tampa Bay community in other ways.
In the early 1980s, she was the first woman president of the Tampa Horse Show Association. She also went on to help found the Gasparilla Charity Horse Show.
Environmental issues have always been close to her heart, as well. She currently serves on the Feedback Committee for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. She also worked with the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida to bring the documentary “Troubled Waters” to the Tampa Theatre.
Homelessness is another issue of importance to her. She serves on The Salvation Army Tampa board, and has worked closely with Metropolitan Ministries for decades. She recalls receiving a call for help from Metropolitan Ministries in the 1970s. “Back when it was just a soup kitchen and the gap house across the street,” she said. Because of zoning violations, the soup kitchen was on the verge of being shut down, and the gap house needed a new roof and bathrooms, she said. In addition to helping fund the projects, Land also brought in volunteer workers to get the jobs done. The projects were completed during the holiday season “and that was the best Christmas I ever had,” she said.
She continues to work closely with Metropolitan Ministries, supporting their efforts to help create a facility similar to Pinellas Safe Harbor in Hillsborough County. “I don’t think people should be arrested for being homeless,” she said. “It’s expensive. At Pinellas Safe Harbor, you have a case worker, a clinic if you need medical help, and you have a safe place to sleep, eat, and store your belonging. And a case worker is helping you. You can go out in the day time and look for a job, and you come back at night. This all makes sense.” She hopes with a changing of the guard in November, with a new mayor and a new sheriff in place, this can become a reality.
Land is always on the lookout for Democratic candidates who embrace these issues that are so important to her.
She’s “fired up” for the 2018 midterm elections. “I’m so unhappy with our Republican leadership,” she said.
She’s excited by the Democratic Party’s building momentum. “Everyone keeps saying it’s going to be a blue wave in 2018,” she said. “I say, oh no, it’s going to be a blue tsunami.”
She’s amazed by the number of women running for office. In 2017, 25,000 women ran for political seats at different levels. “The two previous years, there were 5,000 combined,” she said. There are even more running this year.
“Women, we are the nurturers, and you don’t take advantage of our children. We just aren’t going to stand for it,” Land said. “So Republicans are in for a big jolt, if they’re not already feeling it. It’s going to be a tsunami, not just a blue wave.”

Silhouettes profiles Owen Robertson

Owen Robertson

This article originally appeared in the March. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Most people are surprised to learn this about Owen Robertson – after all, he’s a college educator, in addition to theater producer, actor, director and playwright – but as a teenager he was “a very poor student.”
He said, “I’m an absolute advocate for students doing well in school. I’m an educator, but I also know all the tricks to get out of it.”
Growing up just outside Washington, D.C., he graduated from high school with a 1.9 GPA, ranking 512 in a class of 516. Though he tested well and scored high on his SAT, with his GPA, he wasn’t accepted into any colleges. The only option Robertson had was to enlist in the U.S. Army. “There was a lack of choices in my life,” he said.
This was the start of his “eclectic background” that eventually led him to pursuing theater life as a full-time occupation later in life.
First, though, he served in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, he was part of the 16th Military Police Brigade. He was sent to Honduras, was part of the Panama invasion and assisted with relief efforts after Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix. He went on to become a criminal investigator for the military, specializing in homicide investigation.
After his time in the military, Robertson enrolled at George Mason University as a criminal justice major. Eventually, he changed this to history. Then, a friend at his university who knew he had done theater in high school badgered him into auditioning for an upcoming show, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “I remember, I was in astronomy class with 300 other students and a friend of mine in the theater program kept bugging me about auditioning and wouldn’t stop until I agreed,” he said. “So I did, and I was cast in a fairly sizable role.” After the show, he changed his major to theater.
But when his son was born, he left the program to focus on providing for his family. He took a job in retail banking and later bank security. Then he took a job with a third-party logistics company that eventually moved him to Tampa in 2003. He went on to start his own company in the same field. “But the timing on that was poor,” he said. “We opened up the doors in 2007, right before the market crashed. So that didn’t last long.”
This was a wake-up call for him. When his company shut down in 2010, he decided to turn his passion for theater into his profession. “I really wanted to follow my heart and my calling and figure out how to be a full-time theater artist,” Robertson said.
He’d been involved with theater since that first college performance in 1992, but never thought he could turn it into his career. “I had figured out how to do the day job business and my nights were spent in theater,” he said.
He began auditioning for more professional theater companies and did his first professional show at Tampa’s Jobsite Theater in a production of Quills.
Since then, he’s been involved with more than 100 shows in various roles – actor, designer and even director around 50 productions. “It’s kind of been my calling card to be able to fit into any aspect of theater,” he said. “The only thing I don’t do is sew. So I’m not a costumer. But I was smart enough to marry one.”
In 2010, Robertson also decided to finish his undergraduate degree at St. Leo’s University. He completed a bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in dramaturgy in 2013. The following year, he was accepted into the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s Master of Fine Arts Writing for Stage and Screen program.
Writing and storytelling are nothing new for him. In fact, much like his love of theater, his writing roots go back to high school. “I’m one of the original Dungeons & Dragons kids,” he said. “I speak to the box set, which sadly speaks to my age. I remember the original box set, playing it on the back of the school bus, hunkered down so nobody could see us. As a game master, storytelling came naturally to me. But structured writing didn’t happen until St. Leo.”
In the fall, he’ll begin a doctorate program in literacy studies at the University of South Florida. An adjunct English instructor for Schiller International University and the Ultimate Medical Academy, so this “kind of ties my life together,” he said.
All of these experiences led to him creating the Lab Theater Project, based at Ybor City’s Silver Meteor Gallery, in 2015. Each season focuses on emerging playwrights. “It’s strictly new work,” Robertson said. “That’s all we do.”
Having written only five plays himself, he considers himself an emerging playwright as well. “That’s probably part of why Lab works so well, because I understand where [these new playwrights are] at and I’m able to speak to them as a playwright,” he said. “As a playwright, you’re very protective of your work, which is absolutely right and they should be. But most emerging playwrights haven’t been through the production process. It’s actually a really difficult path for new playwrights to get their stories told. Most [theater companies] won’t take a risk and give them a chance.”
His relationship with Silver Meteor founder Michael Murphy has been another key to Lab Theater’s success, Robertson said. “Mike Murphy is a giant supporter of the arts. Silver Meteor has been around as a performance venue for 26, 27 years, Jobsite [Theater] started there. Hat Trick [Theatre Productions] started there. I’m just the next company in line.” Eventually, as Lab Theater grows, he hopes to find a long-term home for the company, most likely in Seminole Heights.
The theater’s next production, Bibo and Bertie by Sarah Lawrence, about the final year of Albert Einstein’s life and his relationship with his African gray parrot, Bibo, runs March 1 through March 11. Its 2017-2018 season closes in July with the production of a play by Robertson – So Long Life, which he first wrote while at St. Leo and then completed as his master’s thesis project.
He’s proud that Lab Theater has found a home in the Tampa Bay area’s thriving theater community. “In terms of regional theater, this is one of the most exciting areas to be around in terms of diversity and the work that’s being done,” he said.
In addition to Jobsite and Hat Trick, there are a bevy of other theater companies producing inspiring work, he said – Stageworks Theatre, the Tampa Repertory Theatre, American Stage Theatre Company, freeFall Theatre. “All these companies, they continually strive to improve and to improve the theater scene,” Robertson said. “They find voices and work relevant to our community, relevant to who we are as people in terms of being residents of Tampa. They also find work that just speaks to us as human beings.”
In this mix of talented companies, Lab Theater fills a much-needed niche with its focus on emerging artists. “I really want to find new adult [writers] who want to be involved in theater,” he said.
He hopes his own story and his own meandering road to a theater career inspires other. “One of the biggest things looking at my background and who I am as an artist, it’s a very big deal to me to see people get an opportunity to follow their passion and follow their dream,” he said. “Nothing can stop you if you really want it and if you really want to try, and if you’re willing to try, you can make it happen. I’m proof of that.”

Silhouettes profiles Fred Edmister

Fred Edmister

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

For Fred Edmister, owner of National Realty Commercial, his passions in life have always been clear – family, faith, community and his real estate business have always been his priorities. Instilled within him from childhood, these values were passed down to him through his family.
On his maternal side, he’s related to “the old Knight family,” he said, who owned numerous properties – residential and commercial – throughout Tampa, including, at one point, the shipyards. “But they lost them when they couldn’t pay taxes on them in the Depression,” Edmister said. “But even then they still had a lot of property.”
His maternal great grandfather relocated to Tampa from Michigan in the late 1800s to work on construction of the Tampa Bay Hotel, a Victorian railroad resort – now on the National Historic Landmark and part of the University of Tampa – that was built by Henry Bradley Plant in the 1880s.
Edmister’s maternal great grandmother also moved to Tampa from Michigan during that time frame. A Seventh Day Adventist, she was compelled to make this move when the prophet gathered his church members and told them “they needed to go spread the word.”
So she boarded a train and headed south. “She landed in Tampa because that’s as far as the railroad went,” Edmister said. She founded the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Marion Street, where a bus depot is located today.
The paternal side of his family, also Seventh Day Adventists and originally from Tennessee, eventually relocated to Tampa, joining the church there.
Because Seventh Day Adventists operate not-for-profit health care centers, much of Edmister’s family has worked in the medical field. “Except me,” he said. “So I took care of all their properties.”
Career wise, he followed in the footsteps of the Knight side of his family and gravitated toward the real estate business.
As a child growing up in Seminole Heights, the family owned a number of rental properties in the area. As soon as he could write, he would grab the receipt book and collect rent from tenants each month. “Then I’d write down all the problems they were having and take the list back to my family,” he said. “Later I learned how to fix all those things.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Hillsborough Community College and St. Petersburg Junior College. It was during this period that he was briefly “sidetracked,” he said. “I did some things that weren’t the best. I was a rascal. I felt bad for my parents.”
But with guidance from his church and his family, he refocused his life on the things that mattered most to him – faith, family and career.
Edmister started his real estate business by purchasing distressed, low-income housing in Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights, which he in turn would fix up and then rent. “You get a great return on investment,” he said. “All you have to do is keep them up. If you take care of them, [your tenants] appreciate it and pay their rent.”
He branched out and eventually began purchasing commercial properties along the way. By purchasing these properties, sometimes he inadvertently became the owner of a variety of businesses along the way.
For instance, when he purchased a building on Tampa Street, the company that called it home, Adams City Hatters, came with it. “Joe Adams wouldn’t sell the building to me unless I bought the business too,” he said. “I kept all the employees. I didn’t change a thing.” At that point, the company had called Tampa home for nearly 80 years.
When he eventually sold the building to Tampa Electric, he had an inventory of 80,000 hats to sell. So rather than shutting down the business, he moved it to Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. “I had to put the hats some place,” Edmister said. “That was when Ybor City still had storefronts that were a good size and reasonable.”
Other assorted businesses he owned over the years included Knight Motors, which was located on Florida Avenue; Larry’s Ice Cream, art galleries, even a poultry shop. “I owned all kinds of businesses,” he said.
There was also a point when he purchased many vacant lots in Ybor City, including a block between 5th and 6th Avenues and 15th and 16th Streets. Fernando Noriega Jr., a Tampa administrator and champion of Ybor City, contacted him and asked if he would sell the property. Edmister wasn’t interested.
Not long after that conversation, Mayor Dick Greco reached out to Edmister, telling him that Noriega planned to build Centro Ybor in the area where he owned property. “They wanted my property and [Greco] said I could either sell it to them or they could take it through eminent domain,” he said.
He decided to sell, but knowing the revitalization planned for Ybor City, he purchased other properties surrounding where Centro Ybor would be located, some he used as parking lots on busy Friday and Saturday evenings. “I’d set my alarm for 2 a.m. and go down there to collect parking payments,” he said. Eventually, so much of his business centered on Ybor City that he moved his office there.
These days, he focuses primarily on commercial real estate deals. “I’m a little picky about my projects,” he said.
As Clearwater officials plan a revitalization of its downtown, Edmister has been involved in several large deals surrounding office towers and a parking garage in the area. Last year, he also brokered the sale of Naviera Coffee’s former Seventh Avenue location. Richard Gonzmart and the Columbia Restaurant Group will move into the space, Edmister said, and the coffee company relocated to a 20,000 square foot warehouse on 56th Street.
Edmister has sold many of the low-income housing he once owned in Ybor City to the families he rented them to for “a deal,” he said.
“It made my life easier,” he said. “What it did for me was I still had income [from the properties] for years, but I didn’t have to pay the taxes or do the upkeep on them.”
He also saw this as his way of helping hard-working people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to become homeowners. He enjoys giving back to the community in other ways, as well. He’s a charter member of the Tampa Breakfast Sertoma Club, active at the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church and gives back to other organizations whenever he can.
“I like helping people,” he said. “As long as they’re working hard and trying, I’ll help them.”

Silhouettes Profiles Travis Horn

Travis Horn

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 19, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Though Travis Horn is a native Floridian, born and raised in Kissimmee, he fully embraces his “hillbilly roots.”
His family hails from Franklin County, Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia. “The moonshine capital of the world,” he said, made famous in the movie “Lawless.”
Now a Tampa resident whose life centers around Ybor City – he’s director of public relations and business development for S3Media, which calls the neighborhood home – he’s struck by how his family roots “are in one area known for bootlegging and I end up in another place sort of known for that kind of thing as well.”
Though his parents didn’t have many educational opportunities – his father had a sixth-grade education and his mother eventually earned her GED – they were hard workers dedicated to building a good life for their family.
After high school, uncertain of what his future might hold, Horn enlisted in the Army. His decision was influenced by his family’s military history. His father had served in the Navy, and “every generation of my family served in the military going back to the American Revolution,” he said.
He added, “I didn’t really know what I was in for. But I knew when I got off the bus that I was not going to be a lifelong military man.”
Still, he’s proud of his service. “It’s an experience I wouldn’t change for a million bucks,” he said. “It’s something that always stays with you. I wouldn’t want to do it again – there was a lot of sleeping outdoors and not eating good food and being cold and wet – but it’s an experience I’d never want to change.”
Horn enlisted in 1990 and served as an airborne infantryman with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment during the Persian Gulf War. “I was a grunt,” he said. “I carried a rucksack. I jumped out of a plane and when I hit the ground, I was a regular infantryman.”
After leaving the Army in 1994, he attended Valencia Community College, where he earned his associate in arts degree, before completing his bachelor’s degree in political science with a history minor at the University of Florida.
While working as a library technical assistant at UF after earning his degree, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center occurred. He’d always dreamed of being a fighter pilot and considered enlisting in the Air Force. Though he scored well on the entrance exam, he learned that when flight school began, he would, unfortunately, be one month too old.
So instead, he went on to earn a law degree from UF’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law. He wasn’t certain he wanted to practice law, but “I was young and I was interested in politics,” he said. Also, knowing his parents’ personal experiences when they were growing up, he also had “an educational chip on [his] shoulders.”
“I knew where my folks were from and they didn’t have these opportunities,” he said.
While in college, he worked in radio advertising sales. “Even in law school, people said I should be in public relations,” Horn said.
This is exactly what he did. After earning his law degree, he went to work as director of advertising, marketing and public relations for Point 2 Point Communications in Gainesville.
At one point, he did actually work for a law firm – but not in a legal capacity. Instead, he worked briefly as marketing director for the first Austin, Ley, Roe & Patsko, P.A., handling all aspects of marketing planning and implementation for the firm.
In 2006, following a divorce, Horn decided to relocate to Tampa. Initially, he’d been considering a move to Jacksonville, but his cousin lived in Tampa and advocated for him to move there instead. Tampa’s history and culture won him over quickly. “Jacksonville doesn’t have an historic area,” he said. “So I decided Tampa was the place for me. Jacksonville is essentially South Georgia.”
He focused on his consulting firm, which he founded in 2005, and worked with political figures and business leaders throughout the state. He served as CEO of this company through 2012 when he was hired by S3Media.
Located in historic Ybor City, the company works with a range of businesses – from small to large – throughout Tampa Bay and nationally with a focus on new online media. Clients range from the International Diamond Center to iHeartRadio, a deal he helped broker.
The company has grown significantly since he joined the team. There were four employees when he joined and more than a dozen today.
He’s proud of his work with the firm, and was humbled when Tampa Bay Business Journal readers honored him as the top public relations professional in the region last year. “It really meant a lot to me,” he said. “It was something I was honored to receive.”
And while he loves working with the company’s larger clients, he’s glad that it allows him to offer his services to nonprofit organizations either pro bono or at discounted prices. Many of these involve veterans’ causes, which are close to his heart, such as Stay in Step, a nonprofit organization that works with those suffering from spinal cord injuries, and local Special Forces groups. “We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Horn said. “These groups are doing so much good in the community. So this is our way of lending a hand.”
He’s also involved in the community in other ways. He’s a new member of the Tampa Bay area chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “I’m their lay member,” he said, “which is pretty cool.”
Additionally, he’s a member of the local chapter for the American Advertising Federation, which was recognized for its work in government relations, an area he led for the group.
A member of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, he’s also currently chair of its marketing and public relations committee. He’s also in the line of succession to eventually take over the chamber as board president.
Through the chamber, he’s launched several regular events in Ybor City. One is the monthly Lectura Tuesday series, a monthly panel involving community leaders in a discussion about the area’s history.
The other regular event is the Ybor Heroes Award, which honors those who are doing good work in the community, often military veterans, each month.
For Horn, whether it’s his work with the community or his work with S3Media, he’s happiest helping others share their stories. “I love what I do,” he said. “It’s fun. I love helping business people share their stories, pay the bills and employ people. And I love the stories of Ybor City. It’s such a fun place with so many cool stories, so much history.”

Silhouettes Profiles Dr. Jose Lezama

Dr. Jose Lezama

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

One of Dr. Jose Lezama’s greatest inspirations throughout his career has been his late paternal grandmother, Martha Lezama.
Though she wasn’t in the medical field – she was a teacher of elementary-aged students at the Academy of the Holy Names – she still had a significant impact on the chief of medical service at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.
Though he didn’t attend the Academy, he vividly recalls visiting her classroom. “I loved watching her teach,” he said. “I never saw anybody love her job as much as she did. She had so much energy about her and enthusiasm. She loved what she did.”
This enthusiasm inspired her grandson, who for a while thought he might want to be a teacher himself. But as a student at Tampa’s Jesuit High School, he fell in love with science and pursued a career in medicine.
It’s because of his grandmother’s early influence that Lezama carved a niche for himself in his chosen field that allows him to meld medicine with teaching. In addition to his work at the VA, he’s also a professor of medicine and vice chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine. “I was very lucky to create this niche in my medical career,” he said. “I enjoy teaching and nurturing medical students, attendings and fellows. One of the most important things I teach them is how to be humanistic and members of the community wherever they practice.”
At USF, he’s come across students who actually had his grandmother as a teacher during their elementary school years. “They tell me I have an eerily similar teaching style to her,” he stated. “That’s an honor to me.”
After graduating from Jesuit, Lezama went on to the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he took a pre-med track within the university’s honors program and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and cell science.
At that point, he knew he wanted to have a career in medicine, but he wasn’t thinking about what his specialty might be. Instead, he was focused on “a mentality of survival,” he said. During his first pre-med meeting, UF professors told the students to look around the room “because probably only three or four of [them] will be accepted into the medical school.”
UF’s College of Medicine only had 85 seats. But Lezama was confident about his work ethic and abilities. “I looked around the room and wondered who the other three [that get in] will be, because I’m going to be one of them,” he said. “It was good to be a little naïve and very confident. How’s that combination?”
He added, “So I just wanted to get [into medical school] and figured I’d choose [my specialty] then.”
Lezama was accepted into UF’s College of Medicine, and his mentors there guided him toward internal medicine. The specialty clicked for him, as he preferred working with children to adults. “I really connected with the adult population and geriatric patients,” he explained. “So I went into internal medicine.”
In 1997, he was accepted into the University of South Florida’s residency program, which was the number-one school on his list. “Luckily, they thought highly of me and I came back home,” he said.
It was always his goal to return to Tampa as a doctor and serve the community through his vocation.
“And here I am, 20 years later, in a leadership position,” he said.
In 2000, coming out of his residency, he took a job as hospital physician at the VA, where he also assisted in the internal medicine clinic and ambulatory care.
It was a quick transition, he added. “On June 30, I was a resident, and July 1, I was an attending,” Lezama said. “Twelve hours. I was running out of the gate, the way I do everything. Like a rocket out of the gate.”
He also took on a role at USF as an attending physician, instructor and faculty mentor. In this role, he assisted the medical school with curriculum development and certification.
He rose through the ranks at both USF and the VA hospital.
At USF, he first served as the Department of Internal Medicine’s assistant program director, then associate program director, and, finally, in 2012, vice chair. That same year he also was promoted to professor of medicine.
At the VA, he was named chief of medicine in 2006 at age 34. “I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, chiefs of medicine the VA has ever had,” Lezama pointed out.
In fact, he recalls going to his first training session in Washington, D.C. and those running the event thought he was in the wrong place. “They kept trying to convince me I was at the wrong meeting,” he said. “It took a few phone calls to verify I was who I was. Here I am, 12 years later, and I’m still one of the youngest. At 46, I’m still a very young chief of medicine.”
During his time at James A. Haley, he’s proud that his internal medicine residents have passed their board certification examinations 100 percent several times – including the last two years in a row – and many departments continue to rank highly compared to other VA hospitals throughout the country.
Under his watch, the hospital has also founded a renowned electrocardiology program. He also spearheaded a primary-care medicine track, a joint project between USF and the VA, to give medical students experience in primary care. To many students, primary care “is not as exciting as hospital care or specialties,” Lezama said. “But we want internal medicine residents to realize [primary care] is where it all starts. It’s the foundation of everything.”
Since Hurricane Katrina, he’s also been part of a team of local doctors and hospitals that assists with disaster relief and emergency services.
One of the most memorable relief efforts came in 2010, when Operation: Haiti Relief launched following a devastating earthquake hitting Port-au-Prince. For six weeks, Haitian nationals came into the United States through Tampa International Airport and local doctors and medical facilities were on hand to treat them. “I was proud to see a number of local physicians and hospitals get involved with this humanitarian effort,” Lezama said. “It was the first time disaster relief was organized for an international event.”
He also often gives back to institutions that have played a part in getting him to where he is today. “I always ask Tampa Jesuit if there’s anything I can do for them,” he remarked. “I’m a mentor with the UF Honors Program and speak [at events], and [work with] the USF College of Medicine. I’m very loyal. I like to give back to those programs that helped me over the years.”
Even with all he’s done through his career, Lezama said his greatest accomplishment was winning the Lutz Little League championship, his now-11-year-old son’s team. He coached alongside another local physician, Jose De La Torre, in what he said is “a very competitive league.” The team ended its season 19-1.
“This just shows what I try to teach my residents and students,” he said, “the importance of the balance between work and life.”
Lezama and his wife, Amy Abreu Lezama, a pharmacist at the VA, live in Lutz with their three children, who are 14, 11 and 6.
“My wife and three kids always come first,” he said. “Any decision I make about my career is based on how it will impact my family. I like my students to see that you can do all this [in your career] but still keep your ties to your family, your community and your faith.”