Ann Kulig was in the middle of a growing career with a Fortune 500 company, when she answered a calling to step back from the corporate world and get more involved with her community. It was a decision that would lead to an extraordinary 20-year career with the Westshore Alliance, and in many ways, help shape the Westshore District into one of the most vibrant business, retail, and residential communities in the state.
Now, she feels, it’s time to answer another calling; to step down as Executive Director of the Westshore Alliance, travel with her husband, and explore a new chapter in her life.
In announcing her decision, Ann says she has great confidence in the current team and Board of Directors to help guide the Westshore District to great things ahead. So, with the 19th Annual Westshore Development Forum a few days away, and dozens of new projects on the drawing board, we asked Ann to sit down and reflect on all that’s been achieved during her tenure, and all she hopes will be achieved in the district in the years to come.
“I really didn’t expect to be here 20 years,” says Kulig. “I just wanted to reconnect with my community and then, perhaps, transition to a new opportunity in the corporate world. But once I got into it and felt the strong commitment of this team to help the Westshore District develop and grow, I was hooked. You start working on one project and you have a little success, and you think, wow, look at all these other things that could be done.”
It is her style to downplay her role and give credit to all those around her, especially members of the board. But there is no denying all that has been accomplished since she joined the Westshore Alliance in 2001 and became Executive Director in 2016. What was once purely an office district or an area travelers passed through on the way to the airport, the Westshore District is now a true community. In addition to the 4,000 businesses and 102,000 employees, 250 restaurants, and 40 hotels, there are 15,000 full-time residents, and more to come.
“One of the things I really tried to do was market us and help people see that we are more than a business district,” says Kulig. “We are a neighborhood. And, frankly, that continues to be something that will carry us forward as things continue to change with “work from home” flexibility and more. I don’t know if we’re going to have the office population in the district that we saw three years ago, so we need flexibility to accommodate whatever lies ahead.”
To that end, Ann has been a driving force for the addition of more, and better, public spaces in the district.” I think WestShore Plaza is probably the catalyst project that will transform the heart of Westshore and have a ripple effect for years to come,” she says. “Like Midtown, it will create a mixed-use district. It’s one of the biggest pieces of privately owned land in the city. It’s 50 acres. It will create public spaces and gathering spaces. It will be transformative.”
She also sites a 20-acre parcel behind the Home Depot on Dale Mabry that needs to be master-planned and incorporated into the existing neighborhood. “The challenge is the Westshore District really has no history, no historic structures,” Kulig points out. “It’s all-new, so it’s been our responsibility to create a neighborhood and a community from scratch. That’s why we’ve worked so hard on pedestrian improvements in the district. Many people don’t know it, but we’ve added nearly 12 miles of sidewalks in the last 15 years.”
Another opportunity Ann sees is connecting the Westshore District with the waterfront. “It is called Westshore for a reason,” she says with a laugh. “And there’s actually a marina here in Westshore. Who knew?” Several concepts are under consideration to create an urban trail from Downtown Tampa through Westshore to connect to Cypress Point Park and the Courtney Campbell Trail.
While she insists it’s time to move on to the next chapter, Ann is very clear the Westshore District will always be part of her. “Every time I fly in or out of Tampa International Airport, I’ll be thinking about it,” she says. “I’ll look at the view and feel a sense of pride in all that we accomplished.”
As for the constant questions about her legacy, she just smiles and says, “Westshore has a very bright future, and there’s a great team in place to continue the work. Yes, in my heart I know there’s still a million things I want to get done, but I can’t stay here for another 20 years.”
Perhaps not, but the Westshore District and the City of Tampa will be forever grateful for the 20 years and all she accomplished.