The history of South Tampa Magazine
A look back at how a little magazine on Harbour Island transformed into a local voice for South Tampa residents
Harbour Island is a unique place to start a business. On one hand, its gorgeous waterfront setting and affluent residents make it an attractive destination. But on the other hand, you have limited commercial space and you’re on, well, an island separated from the rest of South Tampa. This is a topic that South Tampa Magazine Publisher Greg Jasso and Café Dufrain Owner Andrew Bonnemort discussed for more than a decade.
How do we get people to discover the business village in this beautiful neighborhood with incredible views of downtown and stunning waterfront?
The first idea Jasso came up with to promote the new businesses on the island was a postcard. He would get all of the businesses on the new street to share in the cost of creating, printing and mailing the postcards to the 20,000 homes and businesses closest to Harbour Island. The message? Come see what we are doing in this great waterfront community.
The cooperative marketing idea was so well received that Jasso didn’t have enough room to fit everyone on a postcard. He decided to expand the concept to a mini-magazine called HI Magazine (HI stood for Harbour Island), which premiered in 2003.
“Because the idea graduated from a postcard to a small magazine, we had the room to actually tell a quick story about each of the new businesses, and why they chose Harbour Island as their location,” he says.
This wasn’t Jasso’s first run as a magazine publisher. He spent several years as the owner of a commercial landscape equipment trade publication and event business. After moving to Harbour Island in 2001 he opened Fourtdoor Creative, a local ad agency that deals in print and digital design, as well as websites and collateral materials that help market local businesses.
His goal with HI Magazine was two-fold: create buzz about Harbour Island and use the publication as a promotional tool for his new marketing firm.
“The idea was if the magazine looked clean and we could convince businesses to tell a real story about how they got into their industry and why they chose Harbour Island, the readers would get into it,” he says.
That meant using professional writers and photographers to help tell the story of each business. And since the magazine would also be reflective of Fourthdoor Creative, he wanted the designers to produce something high quality that, when received in the mail, wouldn’t be tossed away like other pieces. The first edition took four months to produce but when it finally did hit the streets, the response was overwhelming, Jasso says.
“As a group, our company knew there was a door opening,” he says.
The team prepared for the second edition of HI Magazine but started asking people what they liked—and didn’t like—about the publication. People loved the size, but they wanted more original content. Jasso didn’t want the magazine to seem like a book of ads so he had his team scour local archives to find historical data about Harbour Island. Their research produced black and white photographs of the Island before development, as well as visual progressions of the area surrounding the neighborhood. Even if you’d lived in South Tampa for decades, HI Magazine was going to show you some things you might have never known or possibly forgotten about the area.
“My thought was if the reception was like this on Harbour Island, it could also work in places like downtown, Soho or the WestShore district,” he says. “We produced similar magazines for each of those areas of the next year, then decided to combine them all under one new magazine that covered the entire area and audiences: South Tampa Magazine.”
That’s how South Tampa Magazine was born. This brand-new publication would be direct mailed to 55,000 homes and businesses south of Kennedy Boulevard, north of Gandy Boulevard and include the Ballast Point neighborhood south of Gandy Boulevard. If you lived or worked in South Tampa, your residence or business would get a copy. “That way we could tell our advertisers exactly who our audience was,” Jasso said.
Over the last 10 years, the magazine has featured numerous celebrities and prominent athletes. But the first big name to don the cover was Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier in 2005. That issue of South Tampa Magazine was flashed on the screen during a Lightning telecast and helped separate the publication from all other direct-mail pieces in the area.
Like nearly every small businesses in South Tampa, the magazine was hit hard by the market crash in 2008. Jasso says the publication lost nearly 35-percent of its advertising revenue due to the real estate market collapse.
“What allowed us to continue was that the magazine generated results for our advertisers,” Jasso says. “We were viewed as an investment, not a cost.”
As the tenth year approaches, Jasso says he’s more optimistic about the publication’s future than ever. He has maintained a great core staff of writers, photographers and designers and continues to produce top-notch historical perspectives and in-depth interviews with business figures and local celebrities. More importantly, he’s still pushing to create thought provoking and effective advertising that will help promote the South Tampa community and its businesses.
“As we approach our tenth year, people are constantly calling in an saying they’re interested in expanding their business or they’re starting a new business,” he says. “Just like the businesses we feature, we’re a business in the South Tampa market. What’s positive for business in the South Tampa market will always mean positives for us.”