Larry White, who saved Powel Crosley's Sarasota home from demolition almost single-handedly and reshaped the way Florida is marketed to tourists during a three-decade career running visitors bureaus in Manatee and Panama City Beach, will retire at the end of the month.
White, 75, leaves the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors after 19 years -- among the longest tenures of any tourism agency head in the state.
During his time in Manatee, White led the county's roughly $3million effort to revitalize the Powel Crosley Jr. mansion from a dilapidated, 21-room eyesore to a showcase that holds hundreds of events, weddings, theater productions and festivals each year.
"Turning that haunted house of a wreck into what it is today is what makes me most proud," White said Wednesday. "Because we did more than restore the house. I think we gave Manatee County a cultural identity."
But it is White's tourism efforts statewide that will likely be considered a greater professional legacy than the conversion of the 11,000-square-foot mansion and its grounds.
"When you talk about Larry White, there's the obvious impact in Manatee and Sarasota counties," said Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"But what most people don't understand is what he did for the state -- everything from changing the tourism power structure away from destinations and big hoteliers to communities, and giving visitors bureaus a seat at the table with state government," Haley said. "He's responsible for broadening the very way Florida is marketed. His is a very long-standing impact."
White was among the first Florida tourism directors to actively seek foreign travelers. To this day, the Bradenton Area bureau maintains an office in Berlin that markets the region to all Europe.
White also founded the Florida Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, a group he chaired three times, and served for more than a quarter century on the board of Visit Florida.
In 2004, White was nominated to the state's Tourism Hall of Fame, which includes such luminaries as Walt Disney and railroad and hotel magnate Henry Flagler.
Raised in Atlanta, White had a successful career in radio -- working his way from disc jockey to owner -before being lured into tourism promotion in Panama City Beach in the late 1970s.
"I'm proud of the bureau we've built here," White said. "We have, and have had, wonderful people who do all the work. It's been a great ride. I'm ready to go to the next chapter."
To celebrate, White last month dove out of an airplane from 10,000 feet up as part of a tandem jump, landing on Coquina Beach while wearing a T-shirt that read "Travel Means Jobs!"
Beginning July 1, the bureau will be led by Elliott Falcione, a 17-year veteran of the agency whom White hired from the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team to be a facilities manager.
"Larry leaves big shoes to fill," said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar restaurant on Anna Maria and a pair of others. "He's passionate, professional and has a strong personality. He's going to be missed, because he's very well-respected throughout the industry."