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Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater Deliver Delightful Group Cultural Experiences

Ybor City mural in Tampa

First named by Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon as the “Land of Flowers,” Florida is just as charming and attractive to meeting groups today for its well- earned reputation for fun in the sun. What visitors may not realize is that Florida’s many desirable meeting locations are home to unique cultures. Such culture surrounds the Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater areas.


David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts view of the stage
David. A Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. Credit: Rob Harris

“The Tampa Riverwalk links together downtown Tampa’s most popular attractions hotels, museums and parks, like pearls on a string,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “From the Henry B. Plant Museum, which was the original luxury Tampa hotel, to the Tampa Museum of Art, new luxury hotels and newly renovated convention center, Tampa Bay is setting new standards for conventions and meetings, all situated in a community that prides itself on its culture and heritage.”

Highlighted by the historic Tampa Theatre and Michelin-starred restaurants, the area is steeped in history that flavors every part of the visitor experience, Corrada added. Meeting attendees will enjoy immersing themselves in the incredibly rich Latin heritage of Ybor City with its Cuban, Spanish and Italian social clubs and cigar history, or the Gasparilla season of festivals and events.  

“Tampa Bay welcomes visitors to indulge in the best of art, food and cultural opportunities throughout the year,” Corrada said. 

Leave attendees in wonder at David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, known for its lavish Broadway shows, rock concerts and classical music and ballet. The Straz Center opened in 1987 and has since welcomed 16 million guests, including many groups.   

“We have so many corporate groups book shows, and we’re lucky to have a new chef preparing meals onsite for our guests at all our outlets,” said Spencer Meyers, group sales manager for the center. “We offer group discounts and can tailor food and beverage—from cocktails to a full three-entrée menu—for any group,” he added. “We like to create a bit of magic.”

Along the Tampa Riverwalk, the 335,000-square-foot center boasts five theaters, a performing arts conservatory, a rehearsal hall, banquet facilities and event seating for up to 300. Maestro’s Restaurant serves gourmet meals with tempting appetizers featuring more than 30 sampler items, including rich artisan cheeses, cured meats and steaming-hot soups to indulge in before gourmet delicacies like grouper piccata or veal saltimbocca. Be sure to check out the SIP Riverfront Bar, SteamHeat Coffee Shop, Maestro’s On the River and Maestro’s Café.  

The Tampa Museum of Art on Tampa’s Riverfront has capacity for small or large events in several different areas inside the museum: Covered Terrace for a maximum of 400; Atrium, 120; Lecture Hall, 100; Second Floor Terrace, 30; and the Boardroom, 21.

With views of the Hillsborough River and the illuminated University of Tampa’s minarets, the museum offers a breathtaking backdrop for any event. With sculptures, contemporary folk art and more than 18,000 pieces from around the world in the collection, guests are invited to appreciate the art during events on the second floor. Groups can gather to sip a frosty cocktail al fresco on the terrace and, if the timing is right, guests will watch in wonder as the sun sets over the Hillsborough River.  

Bring WWII history to life at the 1945 American Victory Ship Mariners Museum, one of four fully operational WWII ships in the country. This ship’s vibrant history includes stints as a cargo vessel in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Docked since 1999 in downtown Tampa and the Tampa Aquarium in the Channelside District, up to 700 guests can climb aboard for lavish evening affairs. Between courses, visitors can tour the cavernous three-level cargo holds, radio room, mess halls, engine room, crew cabins and hospital and peruse the displays of uniforms, medals and photos.  

While not available for private events, but very much worth a visit, is the Henry B. Plant Museum, once the Tampa Bay Hotel, offering dramatic exhibits of Florida’s early tourist industry. Attendees will thrill to see on display original furniture from Plant’s travels to Europe and the Orient as well as 19th-century artifacts. Thanks to Henry Plant, affluent northerners used to step off the train and into the sunshine at his hotel, but alas, while the train is gone, the property itself, now owned by the University of Tampa, remains an assured step back in time.  

Time for a formal or self-guided walking tour of the iconic murals in Tampa should be scheduled on every conference agenda. Tampa’s Ybor City and Tampa Heights murals feature alligators, birds of Florida and the cast of The Wizard of Oz

[Related: New Hotels, Attractions and Restaurants Elevate Orlando as a Meetings Destination]

St. Petersburg

Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg exterior
Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg

Stuart Gardner, president of the Fort Lauderdale-based destination management company Florida Meeting Services, says he’s seeing groups this year asking to add history and culture to its meeting offerings and has used the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg in the past.  

“It’s spectacular! I mean, who doesn’t want to see a melting clock on a tree limb (The Persistence of Memory)—one of Dalí’s masterpieces—up close?” he said.  

To be sure, in the last few years, St. Petersburg has added several museums to its already robust list of cultural offerings.  

“Our ever-evolving arts and culture scene sets a unique backdrop for a wide variety of functional and adaptable meeting spaces to accommodate all types of sizes of groups,” said Brian Lowack, president and CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

“Beyond our beautiful beaches, we have an abundance of outstanding cultural institutions throughout the destination. We are home to a kaleidoscope of artistic expression with vivid colors and endless possibilities within our museums and galleries, on stage at local theaters and concert venues and across our streets with more than 600 beautiful murals,” Lowack added.

The Salvador Dalí Museum showcases one of the most extensive collections of a single modem artist in the world, thanks to A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who began accumulating Dalí’s work in 1943 and later donated their entire collection in the ‘70s. The collection has more than 2,400 pieces, including 96 oil paintings, book illustrations, sculptures and photos, but look for intriguing treasures such as Dalí’s iconic melting clocks, imaginative visual illusions and avant-garde symbols, all sure to impress.

For organizations looking for customized teambuilding events that focus on creative thinking and problem solving—infused with Dalí’s philosophy—several daytime Innovation Labs offer three-hour interactive gallery experiences designed to view Dalí’s work and share some of his unique insights to help spur individual creativity. Located in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg overlooking Tampa Bay, these teambuilding experiences include private event space and access to the museum’s collection, certain to inspire innovative thinking.  

The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art in the heart of downtown St. Pete is chock full of 400 Western artworks by such greats as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Founded by Tom and Mary James, the museum opened in 2018 with several areas for memorable private events. Consider the 3,400-square-foot Arroyo Room that utterly charms with selected sculptures and a majestic waterfall. The Mesa Hall, the largest and most versatile space, has 5,875 square feet, is divisible into four and symbolizes the expansive The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art nature of the American West terrain. The Canyon room at 2,820 square feet is a cafe and shop during the day and later can transform for intimate evening receptions. But the centerpiece is a carved 1905 antique saloon bar from Chicago—complete with a bullet hole!  

Also in St. Pete, the Museum of Fine Arts houses works from such French Impressionist masters as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet. Special event spaces include a world-class ballroom, luscious gardens and a distinctive two-story contemporary conservatory that commands a wondrous view of Tampa Bay. With more than 6,000 square feet of space, the Conservatory accommodates a standing reception for 500 and 260 seated. The Marly Room features over 5,000 square feet and easily welcomes groups of up to 250 with overflow and additional space in the adjoining Membership Garden and Sculpture Garden.  

The Woodson African American Museum of Florida, named for The Father of Black History Month, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is the centerpiece of the first African American community founded by philanthropist Elder Jordan, born into slavery in 1848. He founded the Jordan Park community by creating housing, a bus line, a beach and the Jordan Dance Hall, now known as the Manhattan Casino. As St. Petersburg grew into a tourist destination, more employment opportunities opened for these early residents. Groups can visit and rent out the museum and Legacy Garden for special events. The garden comes replete with a flowing fountain, rose garden and magnificent magnolias and hosts such concerts as the Scotty Wright Quintet and art exhibits by legendary Florida Highwaymen.

Don't have a lot of time? A walking tour of St. Pete’s murals are a nice meetings break. See images of Louis Armstrong playing the sax, one inspired by Jim Morrison, one depicting animals of Florida’s mangroves and just fun and colorful graffiti.  

[Related: The Latest Developments in South Florida Locales Miami and Fort Lauderdale (2024)]


Marlene Rose presents at Marlene Rose Gallery in Clearwater
Marlene Rose Gallery, Clearwater

Clearwater’s own award-winning glass sculptor Marlene Rose really serves up the enchantment! Her Marlene Rose Gallery not only features her own original glass pieces, but up to 45 guests can have a sit-down dinner and drink in, literally and figuratively, her awesome work (all for purchase). Featured on CBS This Morning, Rose said, “My goal as an artist is to inject life into whatever I can make. In simple terms, to make the piece come alive.”  

Rose also makes her work come alive by speaking to groups about some of her pieces and her process, hand-cast from molten glass in a spectacular process of heat and light. Local caterers like SaltBlock Hospitality have concocted imaginative menus in this cozy gallery close to the Capitol Theatre in the heart of downtown Clearwater.  

Speaking of the Capitol Theater, this 1921 gem is one of Florida’s oldest operating theaters. In 2019, the Capitol expanded to add more seating and lobby space, six private loge boxes seating four each, an outdoor balcony overlooking the Clearwater Causeway, a VIP lounge and Frenchy’s Rooftop Terrace, for groups up to 75. The Capitol will welcome performances this year by Judy Collins, Pat Metheny and Classics Albums Live with the Eagles Greatest Hits, among other oldies but goodies.  

A larger venue, the Ruth Eckerd Hall at 73,000 square feet and 2,180 seats, is a performing arts venue that opened in 1983 and was designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Groups will jam to such artists on the 2024 books as Willie Nelson and Diana Krall. Pair a show with dinner at nearby Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant. First opened in 1948 and now a landmark, the piano player will tickle the keys to a few Sinatra tunes in keeping with the Rat Pack vibe.  

New in 2023, The Sound in downtown Clearwater at Coachman Park is a 9,000-seat outdoor waterfront venue that hosts the yearly Clearwater Jazz Holiday festival, which welcomed acts as Los Lobos, Gladys Knight, The Beach Boys and Gipsy Kings last year. With a magical view of Tampa Bay and easy access by water taxi from the Tampa Convention Center, this is a one-of-a-kind concert venue experience.  

To celebrate the area’s rich history, the Clearwater Historical Society Museum and Cultural Center, opened in 1978, is crammed with vintage clothing, cameras, photos, furniture and other artifacts. Housed in South Ward School, built in 1906, daily tours are available.


Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Visit Tampa Bay

Plus: Read more meetings and events news and destination tips in Florida.

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Jennifer Juergens | Contributing Content Developer, Florida and Caribbean