Jim Dean, former park president at SeaWorld Orlando, has been named interim CEO of Pinellas County’s troubled tourism marketing agency, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
Dean was most recently been an executive vice president in SeaWorld’s corporate office after being replaced by Mark Pauls as the park president in Orlando. He’ll take over his new role on Monday.
“Jim’s extensive experience and collaborative approach will be an asset to the department during this transition,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said in a statement.
Before being named SeaWorld park president in January 2017, Dean had spent nearly seven years in the same role for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island. His history with the Tampa parks dates back several decades to when they were a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch.
The CEO role at Visit St.Pete/Clearwater became available following the resignation of David Downing, who stepped down following a Tampa Bay Times investigation that found he spent more than $300,000 since 2014 on expenses charged to a county credit card.
The Times also reported Downing would mix personal business with taxpayer-funded trips but then log the extra days scheduled as work time instead of vacation days, leading to end-of-year payouts for unused paid time off. In comments to WTVT, Downing denied his departure was related to the Times stories.
While the tourism agency says it will conduct a national search for a permanent executive, Dean told the Tampa Bay Times he’ll be among the applicants. If selected, he’d be following the same path as Downing in moving from interim to permanent CEO.
Dean’s former boss can attest to how long that interim tag can last. SeaWorld Entertainment’s John Reilly remains the interim CEO a year after being named to the role, during which time he oversaw steady improvements in attendance and revenue across the theme park chain.