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Longtime City Administrator Joe Zeoli steps down

Veronica Brezina



St. Petersburg's downtown municipal marina, adjacent to the St. Pete Pier. Photo by Mark Parker.

Longtime City Development Managing Director Joe Zeoli was one of the instrumental behind-the-scenes leaders bringing to life some of the most iconic landmarks in St. Petersburg. He helped execute partnerships leading to the Tropicana Field and the original Bay Plaza developments. 

Zeoli, who has one of the longest tenures with the Sunshine City, serving nearly 36 years, has officially retired as of Monday. 

“Joe really is the gold standard of city employees, and I mean that truly with his professionalism, trust and kindness … You’re a great role model for me,” City Administrator Rob Gerdes said to Zeoli during a St. Petersburg City Council meeting last week. He was one of many council members who paid their farewell.

City Development Managing Director Joe Zeoli presenting an item at the Sept. 7 City Council meeting. Screengrab.

“You are just a lion in the city when it comes to economic development, taking care of our assets whether it’s our garage or Municipal Marina,” Councilmember Gina Driscoll said.

“It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to you. It’s been just an incredible time in our city during the years that you and I have worked together with so much activity. I think about all the city-owned properties and the plans for changing, buying and selling … It’s been your guidance that’s helped me in my decisions, even if it’s not the one that you would’ve liked me to make,” Driscoll laughed. “I don’t know who I’m going to argue with about the marina [redevelopment] anymore.”

Zeoli did not respond to a request for comment from the Catalyst

Councilmember Ed Montanari also chimed in during the Sept. 7 meeting.

“We go back a long time,” Montanari said. He commented on Zeoli’s negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays for a stadium deal over the years. 

“When you came to my office, we reminisced a little bit on some of the projects we’ve worked on. You go back so long and have an old school type of way in how business has been done in St. Petersburg. We set a high standard here and you’re one of the reasons why.”

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders also shared her sentiments, acknowledging she’s worked with Zeoli for a brief three years.

“You’ve always been more than cordial and professional. You’ve been very polite and, in this environment, it’s kind of hard sometimes to always be polite even when you don’t agree the whole step of the way,” she said.

Others congratulated Zeoli, telling him not to be a stranger in the city and that now was a “good time to go fishing.”

Zeoli first started working as a city employee when he served as an usher, in the 1970s, at the Bayfront Center.

He also completed a four-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force.

After graduating from the University of South Florida, he started a full-time career with the city in 1987 as the Downtown Redevelopment Finance Manager. In 2001, he was promoted to his current role as Managing Director for City Development Administration. Zeoli has also served as the Enterprise Facilities Director, and was appointed as the Interim City Development Administrator at the start of Mayor Ken Welch’s term.

“He also played a pivotal role in bringing major sporting events to the area, including the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournaments, Davis Cup Tennis, and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the ThunderDome (the former name of Tropicana Field). We thank Joe for his leadership in developing St. Pete’s economic infrastructure,” Welch wrote in the city’s weekly Progress Report.

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    Alan DeLisle

    September 12, 2023at4:21 pm

    Joe understood politics but was always guided by economic and business principles first and foremost. That is why his projects were always successful. Joe could always explain the hardest projects with ease and with a smile. Joe is a man of great integrity that I cherished as a person. Thank you Joe for your friendship, knowledge and compassion. The City will never have another!!

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