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Joe Chillura, behind tax plan that saved the NFL in Tampa Bay, dies at 84

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  • | 12:15 p.m. February 6, 2024
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Joe Chillura in his office, 1998. Chillura, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, died on Feb. 3.
Joe Chillura in his office, 1998. Chillura, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, died on Feb. 3.
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Joe Chillura — architect, former Hillsborough County commissioner and former Tampa City council member — died Saturday. He was 84.

Chillura is perhaps best known as the Republican leader who proposed a half-cent Community Investment Tax approved by county voters in 1996. It was used to build Raymond James Stadium, which, in turn, was the move that saved the NFL in town, with a new home for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

According to Hillsborough County's tax report on its website, the Community Investment Tax generated $2.6 billion since 1996 through the end of fiscal year 2022 "to fund a wide range of improvements of benefit to our community."

Those improvements range from the $168 million used to build the stadium to $539 million used to build new Hillsborough County schools, or to renovate and expand county schools. Other infrastructure projects, such as sidewalks, were also funded by the tax.

The sales tax was a 30-year proposal and sunsets in 2026, so Hillsborough County officials are currently debating if and how to renew it.

The projects that sprang from that tax were among Chillura's proudest achievements, says architect Sol Fleischman Jr., founder and CEO of FleischmanGarciaMaslowski of Tampa.

Fleischman says the economic impact of the Bucs staying in Tampa is still felt in a major way.

Fleischman met Chillura when the former was an undergraduate architecture major at the University of Florida. During summers, Fleischman would intern for Chillura's Tampa Bay architecture firm. Fleischman says Chillura was a valuable mentor.

"He taught me an awful lot about architecture," says Fleischman. 

Decades later, Fleischman says Chillura and he would get together for lunch once a year and go over old times, and how things had changed.

And how, maybe, they did not: Trees were a big thing with Chillura and he wanted Tampa to remain a tree city. Chillura had pushed through a city rule promoting trees and landscaping. "We have the beautiful tree canopy because of Joe," says Fleischman.

Chillura kicked off his public service in 1970, winning a four-year term on the Tampa City Council. This was followed by a 12-year tenure on the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission, according to Chillura's official obituary. Chillura then served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1990 to 1998.

Chillura served on numerous boards and committees, helping to craft the Neighborhood Bill of Rights and the Landmarks Ordinance for Historic Preservation. Chillura also played a role in establishing the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department, his family says.

Chillura's name might also be familiar because in recognition of his service, the Hillsborough County Commission honored him by naming a downtown Tampa park the "Joe Chillura Courthouse Square," across from the County Center on Kennedy Boulevard.

Chillura was born Sept. 4, 1939 in Ybor City, where his mother worked in a cigar factory until starting a family. The Chillura family moved to Seminole Heights, where Chillura was raised, according to the family.

His father was a partner in the construction firm Senttesi and Chillura, which played a role in building numerous high schools and middle schools in Hillsborough County.

A graduate of Hillsborough High School in 1958, Chillura pursued architecture at the University of Florida and had a successful career, known for his modern and contemporary architectural designs where "form follows function," according to his family's statement.

Chillura's architectural footprint can be found in projects such as Lettuce Lake Park, the Peninsula Library, the addition to Hillsborough High School and the U.S. Post Office at Tampa International Airport.

Chillura was married for 60 years to his wife, Mary Helen. Together, they raised five children.

"Joe had a lot of perseverance," says Mary Helen Chillura in a statement. "If he made up his mind to get something done, he made it happen. He wanted to make Tampa a better place, and I think he did that."

Chillura's son, also named Joe, and son Vince serve as executives at Valley Bank, while Conna Chillura holds the position of commercial lending assistant at Valley Bank. The younger Joe Chillura was a co-founder of Clearwater-based USAmeriBank in 2007. USAmeriBank grew into one of the largest community banks in Florida before it was acquired by Valley in 2018. 

Chillura's Grandson Patton Chillura is a founder of Loci Capital and grandson Max Chillura owns Chill Bros. Scoop Shops, an ice cream business with five locations in the Tampa area. 


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