The St. Petersburg Museum of History hosted a welcoming party of sorts Saturday night for John Catsimatidis Sr., the man behind what will soon become the tallest building on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The New York City-based mogul, 74, is also the author of How Far Do You Want to Go? Lessons from a Common-Sense Billionaire. The book details his journey as a Greek immigrant growing up in Harlem to owning several Red Apple Supermarkets to overseeing a real estate, media and finance empire.
Much of Catsimatidis’ next chapter in life will include St. Pete. Construction on the Residences at 400 Central should be complete by next spring, and he eagerly anticipates monthly visits to his penthouse underneath its 45th-floor observation deck.
Catsimatidis is strengthening local ties in the meantime, and a large contingent of family and friends came along for his latest visit to the Sunshine City. Several attendees expressed their appreciation for the new community members.
“Consider us official residents,” Catsimatidis said to conclude his presentation.
Before dozens of people lined up for a book signing, Catsimatidis spent about 45 minutes relaying his life stories, beliefs and political contributions. Kelly McBride, senior vice president for the Poynter Institute, moderated the discussion.
Here are some highlights from his presentation, slightly edited for clarity:
A permanent home in St. Pete
“I love St. Petersburg. I’ve been coming here for 40 years, and this city has come a long way. The amount of museums you have is phenomenal. I think it’s a great community. It’s a nice, simple American city. And I love it.”
Living at 400 Central
“We took the penthouse. When you work for 50 years, seven days a week, you say, ‘eh, I deserve a little.’ One of the biggest arguments I had with my own people was on the top floor, the roof, I wanted to build an entertainment center – a place to go up there at night and look at the stars.
“I’m not going to spend $400 million and not do that. I love the observation deck we’re putting up on top. I wanted to build a wow building.”
Supporting Poynter and media efforts
“I believe in what you guys are doing. I told you when we started that I believe in what Walter Cronkite was – I believe in truth in journalism. And I believe the American people want the truth.
“When I bought WABC, my hero was Walter Cronkite because 92% of the American people believed in Walter Cronkite. We (the station) have common-sense Democrats and common-sense Republicans. Why? Because I think common sense has to prevail.”
“At 5 p.m. on Thursday, I had Kevin McCarthy on, the Speaker (of the House), and I congratulated him because President Joe Biden and himself sat down and did a deal (raising the debt ceiling). I said, ‘The extreme right is no good. The extreme left is no good. Everybody has to sit down and do what’s good for America, together.’”
The importance of building relationships
“I must have had a dozen mentors. Going into the real estate and grocery business, probably 70% of them were Jewish. I learned a lot from them, and I learned to take their advice. They liked me, and people want to do business with people they like.
“Do you know what example I use? When I worked with Bill Clinton, and he was at the edge of the cliff, people loved him. When (former New York Governors) Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo were at the edge of the cliff, everybody was there to push them off.”