TAMPA — Al Austin, prominent Tampa developer, heavyweight Republican fundraiser and philanthropist, has died.
According to friends and his assistant, Bobbi Villar, Austin died in his sleep of a heart attack last night. He was 85.
Villar said Austin had seemed healthy as recently as yesterday, when she worked with him.
Austin was best known for Republican political activism, having been the state party finance chairman and a nationally-known fundraiser for Republican candidates. He was also the driving force behind bringing the 2012 Republican National Convention to Tampa.
But Austin was also a major force in charitable and civic events in Tampa.
He was a leader in engineering the expansion of the University of Tampa, having headed a $70 million capital campaign for the school in the early 2000’s that began its recent major expansion.
He and his wife Beverly were instrumental in founding Tampa Preparatory School, and were nationally prominent in supporting the Red Cross. Austin was also leader of community efforts to preserve MacDill Air Force Base during federal military base-closing episodes.
He was a former chairman of the Tampa Airport Authority and served on the authority board for 12 years until 2011 -- the only member ever to serve three terms.
As a real estate developer, Austin was heavily involved in the growth of Tampa’s West Shore area as a sustaining member of the Westshore Alliance, credited with recruiting the long-time director of the alliance, Ron Rotella.
“I’ve got a big empty hole inside today” because of Austin’s death, said former Tampa mayor and governor Bob Martinez, a neighbor, tennis partner, political ally and civic co-worker with Austin since the 1970s.
Politically, Martinez said, “He was a believer in the Republican Party when there were hardly any Republicans in town was one of very few Republicans I knew” In the 1970s, before Martinez was elected mayor, he said. “He was a leader in building the party and giving it credibility.”