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Accidental Tampa area wedding venue owner embraces new gig

What started as a pandemic fill-in has become a thriving business for Toni Miller and her family.


  • By Laura Lyon
  • | 5:00 a.m. June 20, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Toni Miller has gone from working in the ad industry in Canada to running an 18-acre wedding venue outside Tampa.
Toni Miller has gone from working in the ad industry in Canada to running an 18-acre wedding venue outside Tampa.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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When Toni Miller relocated from Toronto to an 18-acre estate in Seffner with her husband and mother in 2019, she never could’ve predicted the global pandemic to come. On a more personal note, she never could’ve predicted she’d be living at a wedding venue as a result. 

A native of Barbados, Miller originally moved to Tampa to attend USF before eventually graduating from the University of Tampa with a degree in communications and marketing. Her advertising career led her northward but she eventually tired of the cold weather (“Growing up in Barbados, I really was not into the Toronto winters,” she laughs.) So she decided to move back to the area and purchased the land that would eventually become Mill Pond Estates about fifteen miles outside of Tampa — where she made a personal sanctuary out of her new acreage with her and her husband residing in one house on the property and her mother in another. Miller and her family paid a little under $500,000 for the property in 2019. 

A few weeks after lockdown began in March 2020, Miller noted a couple slowly driving past the property. They eventually stopped and told her their wedding had just been canceled and could they please use her open field for a quick ceremony with social distancing? Miller obliged. “And then from there, it just kept going, like more people would drive past and say, ‘oh my gosh, can we do something here?’” Miller says.

Mill Pond Estates was formally incorporated in November 2020 and their first ‘official’ wedding was hosted Dec. 4, 2021. Since then, 85 weddings have taken place on the property and she’s expanded their team to add a venue manager and two landscapers. Couples have their choice of four different settings: a lily pond, a sprawling oak tree, a carriage and the garden. 

Business at the estate is keeping pace with national trends. Marriages in the United States dipped from 2.6 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. But unions have since climbed year-over-year, reaching 2 million in 2022. Similarly, Mill Pond Estates doubled the amount of weddings it handled from 2023 to 2024, with a 40% increase in revenue. (Miller says annual revenue is now in the low to mid six figures.) According to a wedding survey by popular wedding website the Knot in 2023, the average cost of a wedding in the Tampa Bay area is $30,000, slightly below the national average of $35,000.

Although inflation seems to have left no industry untouched, many are still opting to spring for their special day. “Some people will never be impacted,” Miller says, adding that there will always be a “segment of society that will not always feel it as much.” As for couples who are more budget conscious, “They are looking at value and asking a lot more questions” about what all is included. The Miller family responded by adding a micro wedding space and an hourly event package for those looking to stretch their dollar.

Although the ‘big day’ is all about the couple, Miller’s personal touches are woven throughout the process. One of her core values is practicing sustainability. “I just want to make sure as I'm developing [the estate], I am conscious of protecting the environment, working with the environment and not doing anything to disturb all the natural wildlife and everything that we have on these 18 acres,” she says. Her practices include working with local farmers and vendors so the catering leaves a smaller carbon footprint, coordinating with local beekeepers to make sure her projects don’t dissuade bee visitors and environs and offering brides the option to have a bouquet made from her garden. 

Toni Miller has handled 85 weddings at Mill Pond Estates.
Photo by Mark Wemple

Her interest in floral design was born out of impatience, she says. While waiting for permits to come to fruition, she thought, “‘I’m going to grow a garden!’ And through that, I kind of started picking my own flowers, growing my own flowers and then arranging them from my home.” As brides began asking for flower recommendations, she offered to grow them herself with an emphasis on ‘Florida friendly florals,’ and she began taking classes on floral design, 

“It kind of just morphed into me not wanting to stay still, always having to try something new.” What started as a passion project garden eventually became four raised beds with zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos. 

A core challenge of operating an all outdoor wedding venue in Florida is mosquitos. Miller works with a local company, Mosquito Authority, for a pesticide-free solution to manage mosquito population control as part of her sustainability solutions. 

The family’s dedication to the land also includes animal care. Miller Pond Estates is home to 40 chickens, 14 dogs, 5 cats, 5 horses, 2 permanent cows, a host of rotational grazing cows from other farms and a 176 pound Sulcata Tortoise named Tank. With a life expectancy of up to 120 years and only 18 years old, “He will outlive us all,” Miller says. 

Couples can opt to include the animals as part of their day or not, as they are kept on different parts of the property. Miller encourages couples to bring their own pets and even offers pet sitting services throughout the wedding day. 

Another personal tenant of Miller’s is inclusivity. She became Equally Wed Pro certified to “make sure we were being sensitive to people with different sexual orientations,” she says. This includes making some changes in terminology like deferring to the ‘wedding party’ instead of ‘bridal party’ or ‘the getting ready suite’ instead of the bride or groom suite. “We want everyone to feel accepted,” Miller states.

So far, couples seem to respond well to the level of care Miller has put into maintaining people, animals and the land on the estate. Couples are asking what they can do to reduce waste as part of their big day and she is ready with guidance and education. “The wedding industry can be very wasteful. So I'm always trying to figure out ways of reducing that and making the industry as a whole a little bit more planet-friendly.”

 

author

Laura Lyon

Laura Lyon is the Business Observer's editor for the Tampa Bay region, covering business news in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. She has a journalism degree from American University in Washington, D.C. Prior to the Business Observer, she worked in many storytelling capacities as a photographer and writer for various publications and brands.

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