Retiring is not a word anyone would use to describe George Neary, but at the end of this month he’ll hang up one of his legendary hats after twenty years as the Cultural Tourism Director for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Miami Beach legend glitters as much as the bright colors and sparkles he likes to wear. He brings so much energy and passion to what he does, it will take two people to replace him at the GMCVB.
This week, the City came together to honor Neary and wish him well on his next adventure. Not one to sit quietly in a rocking chair, he is starting his own company, Tours R Us Miami, to continue doing what he loves, sharing the area’s history and culture.
Neary who is now 70, came to Miami Beach in 1991 after a stint in the Peace Corps when a friend asked him to manage a small apartment building here. In an effort to meet people, he volunteered at the Bass Museum and the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). When Nancy Liebman ran for City Commissioner, Neary stepped into her role as Executive Director. He stayed until 1998 when he left to join the GMCVB.
The Mayor at the time was Seymour Gelber, father of current Mayor Dan Gelber. “I loved working with him,” Neary said. “We had so much fun together.” Perhaps, appropriately, the last Mayor he worked with in his official capacity is Dan Gelber who he found to be “supportive as well." At this week’s retirement bash, Dan Gelber presented Neary with a key to the City.
“George’s contributions to our city’s cultural life are incalculable,” Gelber said. “He’s truly helped us become the best version of ourselves.”
Neary’s mark on the City was evident at the packed reception at the Sagamore. Former Mayors Neisen Kasdin, Matti Bower, and David Dermer joined Gelber and several current and former City Commissioners, preservationists, arts and LGBTQ activists, and friends in honoring him.
Liebman, herself a former Commissioner and current member of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board, said, “George Neary has been a wonderful friend since he arrived in Miami Beach in 1991, and became immediately involved in the historic preservation movement. Everyone loves him wherever he goes and whatever he does. He was a dynamic executive for Miami Design Preservation League and then moved on to his greatest achievement of transforming the Tourism Bureau into a repository for Cultural Tourism. George is truly a modern day icon who will go down in the annals of Miami Beach history.”
Neary has been influential in growing two of the most important segments of Miami Beach culture and tourism, the branding of the City as an arts destination and as a hub of LGBTQ events. He helped bring Art Basel here and has attended all 16 shows. And, today, he told us, we have “so many events for the LGBTQ community." He loves highlighting them at trade shows around the world.
“We are a wonderfully diverse community,” Neary said. “We’re very fortunate to have a town that embraces the LGBTQ community and works together to make these events so welcome.”
As part of his job, he highlights many of the local areas including Overtown, Little Havana, the Design District which “turned around and is amazing”, “Wynwood has become a place in the world’s firmament”, and Coconut Grove with its “number one arts festival.”
“South Beach, the Art Deco District, is the reason for it all. It turned Miami around. Ground zero is here,” he said mentioning the Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony, the National Young Arts Foundation, and Art Center South Florida as “the foundation” of what’s going on in South Florida. “And of course, MDPL which Barbara [Capitman] started in 1974.”
“I tell people it’s a 25-year overnight success,” Neary joked. “All of these things have come together to make it exciting.”
He predicts North Beach will get in on the excitement. “North Beach is [now] getting some love and attention and that area is going to be more attractive in the future,” he noted. “All the energy coagulates into an exciting town.”
It wasn’t always so vibrant. When he first came to town, his friends felt sorry for him, he said. “Then it became ‘how did you know?’ because it was starting to take off. I brought people here when no one wanted to come here.”
Asked what he’ll miss most, he said, “The variety of things that take place that I could enjoy and highlight and promote throughout the years – the Miami City Opera, New World Symphony, Art Basel, the galleries – it’s endless and because of my voracious appetite and high energy, I’m able to do more than most.”
His job will be broken into two positions, a director of cultural tourism and an LGBTQ director. Neary said as the two areas have grown over the years, he found it difficult to cover the many trade shows and events. The summer Art Basel show conflicts with Gay Pride NYC, one of the country’s largest gay pride events and he regretted not being able to do both. He said he had to “be more broad than deep” and he’s glad there will now be one person just focusing on the LGBTQ events like our own Gay pride event, White Party, Winter Party, and Aqua Girl.
To no one’s surprise, Neary said “I’m not going to stop.” His Tours R Us Miami will focus on arts, culture, history, and the LGBTQ community here “whenever someone needs a good tour.” It will be “vibrant and inviting and sharing the passion that I have for the tours.”
When anyone thinks of George Neary, his “sparkle” is one of the things that is top of mind and just makes you smile. Ceci Velasco, the Executive Director of the Ocean Drive Association, is a relatively “new” friend, having known George for about ten years. “George Neary is an iconic trailblazer, which is fitting as he represents our iconic brand perfectly,” she said. “He personifies all the best attributes of Miami Beach and has invited the world to participate in his show. I am so proud to know him, work alongside him and have a little sparkle rub off on me.”
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