Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

Two USF grads help rebuild a troubled Tampa community as they build their business

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TAMPA — He pushes the trick door open with his foot and backs into the darkened conference room.

"Alexa, turn the lights on."

It's 7:23 a.m. Tim Moore has been at work for two hours, and awake since 4 a.m.

Jon Davila walks in, sets an air horn on the table and disappears through double barn doors on the opposite side of the room. He returns with a $16,000 video camera, which he plops down in front of Moore, his best friend and business partner.

"Wreck it," he says, smirking.

Moore and Davila's multi-million-dollar video production company, Diamond View Studios, is the first of its kind in north Tampa's so-called "Innovation District," an economically stagnant area better known as Suitcase City.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: New report to serve as blueprint to revitalize Tampa's troubled university area

With clients that include Hyatt, Corona and Gatorade, The University of South Florida graduates have created a workplace and business unlike anything else in the neighborhood known for high crime and poverty rates. And for an area that Hillsborough County has committed $2 million to improve, Diamond View has become a role model.

"This is the future of this Innovation District," Cesar Hernandez, one of Diamond View's community partners, said during a recent tour of the company's office. "You kept talent here. You're from here... this area that other people think is blighted."

During a recent Monday morning staff meeting, however, the focus was on revving their 20 employees up for the week.

At 8:45 a.m. Davila blew the horn marking the start of the fire drill, where six groggy millennials wearing flat-brimmed hats had 15 minutes to fix the settings on the camera and record a handful of short video clips featuring coffee beans and a mug. The rest of the staff watched from the dim conference room as they set up the fog machine and rush to get the lighting just right.

The team had a busy day ahead, with shoots in Orlando and St. Petersburg.

"It's a different type of business for this area," said LaTiecea Hailey-Brown, the assistant principal of Mort Elementary School, which is two doors down from the studio. "They said: 'We're here to stay; We're here for the long term."

READ MORE: Tampa's Mort Elementary hopes to become a 'community school'

 

Both 28 years old, Moore and Davila have grand plans for the area as well as their business. They have hosted classes of students from Mort Elementary, who recorded their morning news announcements from the studio. They're shopping around for more land that they can purchase in order to build a larger video studio and accommodate more employees. In addition to joining the boards of a handful of nonprofits, they've launched their own organization with plans to build and finance public art sculptures around the neighborhood, which they said could be an inspiration to the scores of pedestrians who walk East Bearss Avenue every day.

Davila, in particular, has a deep connection to the community. The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, he grew up in the high-poverty, crime-ridden Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago, where like many of his classmates, he walked to school every day.

Every afternoon, he sees children from Mort Elementary School walking past his office, holding their mothers hand, just like he did.

"If I can succeed, they can too," Davila said.

In the nearly three years since moving into its current office, the company has grown from nine employees to more than 20, with a regular stream of USF or University of Tampa interns and between 30 and 40 contractors. After reaching $5 million in revenue last year, Davila said they could double this year if a certain contract goes through.

Diamond View's workforce is a tight-knight group. A handful of the producers live together. Seven staff members accompanied one producer to Ireland this spring after his grandmother died. After the trip they showed off ultra-high resolution drone videos of the rolling countryside, which they can use in future videos.

"I've never worked anywhere like this," said Erin Cullaro, legal council and executive coordinator for the office.

There's a snack room and a nitrogen tap for kombucha and Blind Tiger Cafe's cold brew coffee. The second floor has an elevated loft with a large conference area called "King's Landing," accessible through a winding industrial staircase. Employees play a dueling drones game in the afternoon, flying the small machines in the open space above the offices.

The driving force behind the culture is passion, and often the fuel of that passion is that Diamond View has managed to largely prevent the office from feeling like a real job. For most of the employees, this is the only office they've ever worked in.

"One of our secrets is we really like creating content, paid or not," Moore said. He asks job applicants to show him videos they've made outside of school or work.

"The goal is to keep refining that creativity," he said. "We want to just keep growing."

Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.

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