The Sands of Time: A Hospitality Icon Celebrates 40 Years

Sheraton Sand Key 40th AnniversaryClearwater Beach, FL (March 5, 2015) – When General Manager Russ Kimball started his first year with Sheraton Sand Key Resort, it was 1975. The Vietnam War was ending, gas cost 44 cents per gallon, and HBO was preparing to debut in hotel rooms in Florida.

Inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame in 2009, joining other extraordinary leaders such as Walt Disney and Henry Flagler and named “Mr. Clearwater” in 2010 by the City’s Chamber of Commerce, this veteran General Manager has certainly come a long way from a 15-year-old boy washing dishes in a German restaurant in Albany, New York.

Kimball was honored last week by Sheraton Sand Key Resort’s franchisor, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Starwood’s Corporate Office sent Senior Vice President of Franchise Operations, North America Colleen Keating and Vice President of Franchise Operations Mary Hynes-Talhouk to congratulate Kimball in person for becoming one of the few if not the only 40-year franchised-based general managers in the industry today.

Kimball said, “I never really thought about it before, but after 40 years, I figure we have seen just over 3 million people; that’s a lot of great memories for families, companies, organizations and our staff. I admit I am a creature of habit and ‘make my rounds’ but we also embrace change and keep up with technology and modern comforts. This is what I do and I am grateful to everyone that enables me to do it each and every day.

During a recent interview, when asked to describe what he had seen in four decades of Sheraton Sand Key Resort hospitality, Kimball reclaimed:

“In the 70s, Walt Disney opened the floodgates and gave people a reason to come to central Florida for vacation year round. In the 80s we started using fax machines and going after European visitors and flyers like Skytrain and Pan Am made it easy to ‘go over the pond’. In the 90s e-mail came into play along with wireless phones. And local developer JMC built many of the Sand Key condos nearby and we modernized the entire hotel with a Mediterranean look. In 2000, we had Y2K on our horizon and I remember one of our guests sending me a picture of the hotel prior because we didn’t know what was going to happen to us! Expedia and Priceline changed the way vacations were priced and booked and hospitality brands had to step it up more. In 2008, everyone hit hard economic times and we had to adapt and find new ways market in order to live through the recession. As if the recession was not enough, we were hit with the BP Oil Spill in 2010 and that scarred the reputation of Florida hospitality for two to three years. Is that enough to capture 40 years?”

As a successful GM, Kimball is known for running a tight ship and embracing innovation. As recently as 2014, Kimball orchestrated a massive overhaul of the resort’s overall theme,  modernizing everything from the main lobby, meetings rooms, cafes, restaurants, bars and all 390 rooms and suites. Kimball also made certain all the previous resorts furnishings were donated directly to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches; one of his many non-profit partners.

Sheraton Sand Key Resort’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Jack Guy recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with the resort. “If you review the staff and management tenure, you will find one of the strongest retention levels in the entire industry. Many employees have been at Sheraton Sand Key Resort for 10, 15, 20 and even 30 years in a multitude of positions ranging from housekeeping to senior management. It’s a fluid machine that runs with precise actions and service, but it’s one of the friendliest and most family-like work environments I have ever known; and that is a direct attribution to Russ Kimball.”

Kimball is personally a huge contributor to the community ranging from sports to the arts, many non-profits and deep support to the Wounded Warriors and MacDill Air Force Base’s Central and Special Operations Commands. Coincidentally, Kimball was award the “Phillies All Star Community Award in early February 2015.

The resort is also no stranger to Hollywood; it played host to Warner Bros. Dolphin Tale 2 and the global press as the staging headquarters for interviews with film stars Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Nathan Gamble. The Sheraton Sand Key continues to be a partner of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, having earned the title as one of “Winter’s favorite places to stay.”

Although Kimball started his career in the northeast after attending Paul Smith’s College in Paul Smiths, New York, he would later transfer to Florida State to graduate with a degree in Hospitality Management. His first stint in the Hospitality Industry would be at the Schrafft’s Motor Hotel in Western New York.

Just a few years later, Kimball would begin a very long and ambitious career as the General Manager of Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, Florida. And, as they say, “the rest is history.”

For more information on special packages, contact Sheraton Sand Key Resort by phone at 800-456-7263 or visit www.sheratonsandkey.com.

About the Sheraton Sand Key Resort

Sheraton Sand Key Resort is located directly on the beach at Sand Key.  Offering 390 rooms and suites overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway, the resort offers a legacy of exceptional hospitality serving guests from around the world.