Tom Staed led the way in tourism
Reader’s Digest has had a feature called “My Most Unforgettable Character” for many decades. I have a character in mind, now that the Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge in Daytona Beach is nearing completion.
I suspect that in the future the bridge will be called the Orange Avenue Bridge, Memorial Bridge or some other shortened version, but Tom Staed should be remembered. For those who didn’t know Mr. Staed, who died in 2013 at 81, I’d like to put an image with the name, even though my viewpoint is only from an employee’s perspective.
It’s fitting that this bridge will begin next to the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau and take a soaring arc over to the beachside, the core of tourism, because he was a bridge himself, helping to move local tourism into the future.
I worked for him from 1988 to 1992 at his company, Oceans Eleven, which managed a chain of oceanfront hotels that he owned along with other investors.
Nearing 60 when I knew him, he was tall with a lean, athletic frame. He looked like he could fit into the Marine uniform he had worn as a young man. The only thing giving away his age was a full head of white hair.
When Mr. Staed walked into a room, you knew he was in charge. He was a natural, charismatic leader and expected results.
But there was that grin, and I can still hear his laugh, which could erupt at any time.
Our newspaper rules say not use “Mr.” But “Mr. Staed” is the only thing I can call him.
I would be walking down the hall in a daydream, trying to think of a clever headline for an advertising brochure, and he would come around the corner making those long strides. I would merely have to flatten myself against the wall. He was always on a mission and, like most successful entrepreneurs, had boundless energy.
I noticed that nearly all of the office employees were involved in a charity or community activity and learned this was stressed at the company. Mr. Staed himself served in numerous associations.
I kept track of all the activities for a year and entered a national contest. Oceans Eleven won first place, beating the major national hotel chains for community involvement.
When Mr. Staed was building his hotel chain from Ormond Beach to Daytona Beach Shores in the 1970s and ‘80s, it was a time of transformation, from mom and pop motels to resort-style hotels with amenities such as recreation programs for children. He not only led the way with his hotels, but was involved in overall tourism efforts. He was instrumental in setting up the resort tax, paid by tourists, which supports the Ocean Center and the Halifax Advertising Authority. He had leadership roles in state and national hotel associations.
He eventually sold most of his hotels.
Today, Daytona Beach still has excellent accommodations, but there are well-known problems. Can the run-down neighborhoods be fixed up so tourists enjoy walking or riding bikes around town? Can Main Street be revitalized, perhaps expanding on the current night club scene? Can the Boardwalk return to its glory days of family fun?
Whatever the vision, it’s important to keep up the effort. When I drive over the new bridge, I’ll remember someone who came before, and who expects us to keep working hard and getting results.