Episode 065

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.

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03/30/2020 | Episode 065 | 32:24

Fred Bullard, Veteran Entrepreneur and Real Estate Developer

St. Pete pioneer: Fred Bullard shares stories of entrepreneurship and talks about building some of St. Pete's most iconic places

On this episode of SPx, Joe is joined in the studio by Fred Bullard, veteran developer and entrepreneur. Bullard, the man behind some of St. Pete's most iconic places, including Feather Sound/Carillon and BayWalk, shares his storied history of entrepreneurial endeavors, lessons learned over the years and what gives him meaning now.

Key Insights

  • On this episode of St. Pete X, veteran entrepreneur and developer Fred Bullard joins Joe Hamilton in the studio.
  • Bullard has been elemental to the development of St. Petersburg. His first development in the area, started in 1972, was the Feather Sound/Carillon area.
  • In fact, Bullard is the person responsible for those areas being a part of St. Petersburg at all. He owned the property and annexed it into the city.
  • Alongside the Sembler Group, Bullard was also responsible for BayWalk, the original mall development at the site most recently known as Sundial St. Pete.
  • Bullard has a storied professional history, in fact, it might be easier to write what he hasn't done. He's forayed into sports, restaurateuring and food distribution, real estate development and manufacturing.
  • He is the former owner of a USFL Football Team in Jacksonville, a hotel and condo developer (his latest, the Karol Hotel, is name after his wife), and Bascom's Chop House.
  • Bullard comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. His father and grandfather were in the turpentine timber business in North Florida.
  • His own children run his entrepreneurial enterprises and their own, as well. "My son Fred runs all my real estate operations. And my son Burton helps in the restaurant operations, he has one of his own. And then I have another son, Billy, he's in real estate. And I have another son, Barry, he's a home builder up in Gainesville."
  • Bullard's work history began at twelve with his grandfather. "I started out when I was about 12 years old with working for my grandfather who had a pecan orchard up in Macclenny, Florida. I got paid two cents a pound for picking up pecans, we call them "pee-cans" in the South.
  • Before the Jacksonville Jaguars: Bullard shares his experience owning at USFL team, the founding premise of the league and why it ultimately failed.
  • Bullard talks through his 7-year legal tangle with Starwood Hotels and ultimately coming out with a big win.
  • On hiring: "I look at common sense and the ability to give it all they got, their commitment to work, their work ethic. And it has paid big dividends. I have some guys that have worked for me for years that are extraordinarily successful. And I hope that I made a contribution to their success and their future."
  • Business philosophy: "You've got to be able to weather the storm. And like I said, you've got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. So, that becomes an important element too."
  • Bullard owns zero stock. "My fear of somebody else making my decisions has always been a little bit of a problem with me internally," Bullard says.
  • On partnerships: "The partners I've had and have today usually developed from personal relationships. Very seldom have I ever gone outside of that."
  • What gives Bullard's life meaning now? "My family, my grandchildren, my children, my grandchildren, my wife, that's really the center part of my life and my close friends. So, I'm getting at the age now where that's all I think about really."

"I don't think I'll ever stop wanting to create something."

"Although I'm a Republican by registration, I also have a liberal bend to me and I noticed that some of the things they did in St. Petersburg were contributing to the city itself, the leadership did. And I was very impressed with that."


(00:00 to 01:45) Introduction

(01:45 to 03:17) The Steakhouse Business

(03:17 to 06:36)  Business in the Family

(06:36 to 13:35) The USFL

(13:35 to 17:32 ) Ritz-Carlton and Legal Battle With Starwood

(17:32 to 21:11 ) The Hospitality Industry and Hard Work

(21:11 to 23:45) The Measures of Wealth and Lifestyle

(23:45 to 27:57) Future Projects and Investing

(27:57 to 29:50) Thoughts About St. Petersburg

(29:50 to 30:53 ) Other Industries

(30:53 to 32:22) Conclusion

Full Transcript:

Transcription begins [00:00:52]


Joe: Joining me on SPx today is Fred Bullard, welcome sir. 


Fred: Thank you. 


Joe: So, you’ve had a, I think by any measure, a pretty darn good life, would you agree with that?


Fred: I can’t argue with that. 


Joe: And if I’m coming at it from the business man’s point of view you’ve had great successes, you’ve had a varied- You know, you’ve gotten to a whole mix of different things. So, I’ll run through a couple of them and you let me know if I missed out on any. So, Feather Sound, you developed most of the Feather Sound area. 


Fred: Yes, that was one of my first developments here, 1972 I think it was.


Joe: Bay Walk?


Fred: Bay Walk, yes, Mel Sembler and I did that together.


Joe: And then you ended up buying his interest in it.


Fred: I did, that’s correct.


Joe: Owned a USFL football team or had an interest in that.


Fred: Jacksonville, yes.


Joe: Various hotels and condos including the latest one which was, can we call it romantically named after your wife Karol?


Fred: That’s correct.


Joe: Which is very sweet. And we’ve got a little place called Bascom’s Steakhouse.


Fred: Bascom’s Chop House, it’s run by my son Paul who is the guy that’s made it so successfully, literally.


Joe: And some other ventures into the steak business with Durango’s which I think peaked out in the 50 some locations?


Fred: Well, not quite, we had about 30 steak houses across the Southeast. And some were very profitable, some weren’t. I called my staff in one day and said, “We’re shutting down.” They said, “Why?” I said, “Well, I’m tired of losing money on this one, this one, and this one.” And rather than try and run this thing we couldn’t sell, there was a time when I approached a couple of people, nobody had any interest in buying anything.




Joe: Right. 


Fred: The overall concept was good, was very successful, the product was good, and we had some issues. Management was thin, I didn’t really feel like devoting a lot of time to it, so we liquidated most of them. Some of them we sold to operators that were managers. 


Joe: Got it. You mentioned your son runs Bascom’s?


Fred: Yes.


Joe: And your other son Fred is in the business as well, so… 


Fred: Yeah, my son Fred runs all my real estate operations. And my son Burton helps in the restaurant operations, he has one of his own. And then I have another son, Billy, he’s in real estate. And I have another son, Barry, he’s a home builder up in Gainesville. So, that covers all my boys. 


Joe: So, all very entrepreneurial. Can you talk about-


Fred: Very much so.


Joe: -raising an entrepreneurial family?


Fred: Well, I guess that’s what it was. You know, my whole family basically were entrepreneurs. My grandfather and his father were in the turpentine timber business in North Florida. And our family came from that area. And that’s what they did until the basic business eroded after World War II and they liquidated everything. So, I sort of got my run from that. 


Joe: And do you remember, when the boys were young, do you remember taking them with you on deals or into meetings when they were seven, eight, nine, 10?


Fred: Sometimes I did, yes, I did. And when they were young they sort of sat back and we would kick things around. Freddy, Burton, and Paul went into the comic business when they were about 12 years, 13 years old collecting comic books and selling them. It was kind of an interesting story but they had a kick out of it and they all had a falling out and Paul left the business because he felt like his two older brothers were taking advantage of him. 




Joe: Were they?


Fred: No, not that I know of, they may have been. 


Joe: You know, obviously there are many stories of families working together around each other that don’t go well, how do you think you managed to keep with the comic book fiasco aside, how do you think you’ve managed to keep the harmony?


Fred: Well, let everybody do their own thing and not to cross over into lines where they have an opportunity for an argument, you know? So, they get into those kinds of areas, it’s better to keep them all segregated so that one person can have an opinion but doesn’t make any difference what his opinion is, the other guy has to take the rule. 


Joe: Right, because it’s a clear line of who is running what, yeah. And have you had a situation I guess maybe Fred would be the only case where they were always working in conjunction with you, there were never instances of competition where you guys were both working on the same deals from different angles.


Fred: That’s true and they seek advice which I’m happy to give, I’m good at that. But I don’t think there’s ever been a case where any of them have ever done anything that would really compete on a small scale maybe but nothing of significance. 


Joe: That’s good. And with that advice a lot of that is probably analyzing opportunities. You’ve had such a varied career, can you kind of walk through the process of how you think about opportunities when they come to you?


Fred: Well, it’s interesting, I started out when I was about 12 years old with working for my grandfather who had a pecan orchard up in Macclenny, Florida. And I began my first experience with my grandfather, I got paid two cents a pound for picking up pecans, we call them pecans in the South. And he taught me a lot of lessons. He also made me my first shoe shine box. And he was an enormously intelligent guy and he was a postmaster. And I recall when I had my shoe shine box, for example, he made it for me and he stocked it for me, he got the polish and the brushes, and the clothes. And I went downtown Macclenny and solicited business on the street corner and he was my first customer. And after I finished polishing his shoes I held my hand out and I said, “That will be 10 cents, granddaddy.” And he said, “Really?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, since you owe me a dollar I got 10 more shines coming.” So, he taught me a lesson, you get what you pay for and you pay for what you get.




Joe: Sure. So, let’s grow that process up to the Ritz-Carlton or USFL team. So, when you get to these bigger opportunities, you know, do you see the reason you would take them as because you were lucky to get them and they just are good opportunities? Or do you feel like you have an executional advantage? Or?


Fred: You know, you look at it like it’s going to be exciting, that’s generally speaking one of the elements of investing in anything. And you get your ego involved in it sometimes and oftentimes that’s a big mistake but that takes over and ego trip gets involved and like football and things of that nature. I enjoyed it thoroughly but it was a very expensive lesson. And I met a lot of wonderful people like Jacksonville is my home town. And so it was a great experience and I actually thought that league had a chance and the concept was good, but the ownership of various franchises breached their own doctrine. In other words I started out the idea was that John Basset who was a founder who was from Toronto of the league he and a guy from New Orleans the idea was to sign one or two big players and pay the rest of them a modest livable wage and so forth. And that soon got out of hand, it was not one or two players that they signed because most of these guys had a lot of money and they wanted to win, so they’d go out and breach that relationship to two, three, four, five, six players.




Joe: And that’s per team? So, you’re looking at you’re getting one or two-


Fred: Well, what happened was your payroll got out of line. 


Joe: Right.


Fred: And as a result of that the league faltered and we had 12 teams at one time and there were only six of us supporting a league, we were paying for everybody’s payroll and you get a little tired of doing that.


Joe: Right, with the revenue share.


Fred: Yeah.


Joe: So, walk me through the middle of that. So, you’re going up, you’re on the ascent, you see the opportunity, and then slowly you start to realize that numbers aren’t there, you kind of start to know why, and then you start to see it coming out the side going down the other side of the hill. So, what were you able to do in there and how did that sort of come to you? 


Fred: Oh, I think that basically there was several reasons for its failure. One is the National Football League there were several reasons for its failure. One is that the National Football League had such a powerful say over the networks and they influenced the networks on paying a USFL for broadcast and they then started whittling it down. And so the league ended up with a modest contract with ABC and ESPN which wasn’t adequate enough to support the league. And consequently the league ended up in a lawsuit which was poorly handled in my opinion and the bottom line is that when you look at it, we were kind of our own worst enemy too. It wasn’t all a one-way street. And we really contributed to our own demise by some of business practices by our team in Jacksonville and Tampa came in second, we were averaging 40,000 people at a game. And we were successful in the marketing side and so was Tampa, but the other side of that issue was that there were other teams that were struggling. You know, you’d go to the football game in Los Angeles for example and you might be 10,000-12,000 people there. And certainly the team couldn’t survive that. 


Joe: And you chalked that up to marketing prowess, the markets should have been able to support it?




Fred: Well, I think it was a combination of things really. It started out with salary issues where you had a guy and say he wanted to win so he would go out and find say Pittsburgh Steelers had a great offensive line, so he’d go out and steal four players off the offensive line and pay them big money and that was a starting point of the breach of the relationship between the owners and the commitment they had of keeping their payroll down so that they could compete. And so, what happened was that the teams became a little lopsided as a result of that. Those that were strong whipped up on the ones that were weak, it’s the name of the game.


Joe: I mean, it seems like it would have been reasonable to know the NFL was going to kind of kneecap you a little. And when there were no protections that could have been even after the fact put in to force them not to do the salary spend?


Fred: Well, I think if you’re speaking in terms of the NFL, the role they played, it was interesting. There were some team owners, for example, one was me. I felt like if we did a good job and ran the league in a professional way that would end up with a merger with the NFL and probably should have. But we had some personality conflicts within the NFL within the framework of the USFL and as a result of that the NFL said you know what? Take a hike, you know? Because they didn’t need us because you know the success the NFL has, it’s unbelievable, it’s incredible. 


Joe: So, some of the owners saw it more as a fight against whereas you saw it as a potential working together in the end, yeah. 


Fred: My whole game plan was to say that this was Jacksonville, look what we’ve done here, we’re averaging 40 something thousand people a game and we’ve got some great players and we’ve got decent winning streaks. And we would be a potential NFL franchise.


Joe: And has this before the Jaguars? I guess I don’t know if my timing is right.


Fred: Before the Jaguars.


Joe: So, essentially you proved yourself right. 


Fred: Yeah, we laid the groundwork for the NFL franchise in Jacksonville.


Joe: But the Bucs would have been here already at that point?


Fred: The Bucs were already here, yes. 




Joe: Gotcha. So then, what’s your take on the- Did you get in the mix at all with the XFL team?


Fred: No, I think once you have an upset stomach from having too much of something to eat you don’t need any more of that.


Joe: I hear you. I haven’t learned that lesson myself. I’d love to hear what it was like owning a team though, going to the games, working with the players.


Fred: Well, it was a huge ego trip. I mean, you know, and I admit that plays a role in it that- 


Joe: Quality of life.


Fred: Pretty soon the ego trip runs out when the pocket book gets too thin and you recognize well I’m spending a fortune on this thing, it’s not making any sense, but it was a fantastic experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world for it. My father had passed away, my mother was still alive and she got a big kick out of it. So, it was worth everything that I went through for just for my mom.


Joe: You have a very pragmatic energy when it comes to closing some of the Django, sort of the trajectory of how the USFL rolled, and I know there were some ups and downs with the Ritz. So, do things that don’t work in the large majority of what you’ve done have worked, how bad do the things that don’t work sting you? Or do you sort of stay yep, it didn’t work, we’ll move onto the next one and play the odds?


Fred: Well, both. So, if you look at the issues most of the things that you get into in the real estate investment world timing is very interesting. And the Ritz-Carlton for example we opened in 2007. The beginning of the worst real estate bust we’ve had in hundreds of years so to speak, some people call it a recession, I call it a depression. So, our concept was good, our product was good, our cost went way out of whack for a lot of variety of reasons. And we ended up in a lot of legal battles with – at that time was – Starwood Hotels and some I think very poor decisions on their part of the way they treated us. And so consequently we switched from Starwood and went to Marriott with the Ritz-Carlton. It was initially a St. Regis hotel which was the number one hotel in New York. I wanted that because I was building condominiums on top of it and I thought the market in New York was a very important market so everybody to me was saying Regis blah, blah, blah. And so, Barry Sternly who was a chairman at that time was very cooperative. He was limited in his thought process on whether he wanted to do that or not but after we got started he and I got along great. But then they changed management and things went downhill after that. 




Joe: And that tangle with Starwood lasted what seven, six years? 


Fred: Yeah.


Joe: It’s a big chunk of your life.


Fred: Yeah, it sure was.


Joe: And you won pretty handedly and pretty big. 


Fred: Yeah.


Joe: So, obviously I’m sure the lawyers weren’t cheap.


Fred: Oh, well, no. I still have a good friend of mine who is an attorney in New York and I guess you would end up saying that- His name was Todd Solloway he was a prior cash men in New York and I chose him because when I interviewed, and I interviewed maybe a dozen law firms, and he was quietly smart and said some things in the meeting that I had and the interview that I had and he was new with the firm. And I don’t know Todd was maybe 40 years old or so but I could tell he was smart and he was aggressive and he asked all of the right questions. And so, Todd now is a very famous litigation on behalf of hotel companies. And so he stored well and he made a lot of money off us too.


Joe: And probably in no small part to that victory.


Fred: No question about it.


Joe: So, coming through that obviously a lot of, you know, related at the end of it flying up to New York all the time, how frustrating was that? Did it give you faith in the legal system? Or? 


Fred: I’ve forgotten the judge’s name, Shacklemen, I think it was, very intellectual, very smart judge, who paid a lot of attention to detail. And I think when he saw the case and looked at the evidence and also found a couple of witnesses that conflicted their testimony I think he was convinced that Starwood was responsible for a great deal of our economic chaos you might say.




Joe: Right. 


Fred: And as a result he tried to get us to settle and I tried to settle but the management at Starwood decided that it was ridiculous, they were going to win, right? Well, they didn’t. So, at the end of the day Starwood management group lost the confidence of their investment group and I believe that was finally why they ended up being purchased by Marriott.


Joe: Interesting.


Fred: Yeah, and I think that’s the word, I got no proof of that, but I think our lawsuit and the win that we did was an impactive thing on their management.


Joe: Yeah, it made waves.


Fred: They could have settled it for half of what I won, I offered it to them.


Joe: Then it was hubris, you know, they didn’t think there was any way that they could lose that kind of money?


Fred: No, I think that they were stupid. That’s really only the best answer that I’ve got for it. And I was simply trying to settle it down and pay off our debts and do that kind of thing and they’re like we’ll outlast you, but myself and my partners were strong financially, so we could stick with it and we did. And my wife and I actually were in the courtroom in White Plains for three months as this trial went on.


Joe: Any temptations to take the winnings and open a Starwoods up just for fun?


Fred: No thanks. 


Joe: So, I have to know, what makes a good steak? Are you passionate?


Fred: Well, yeah. A good steak begins when you buy the meat, when you process the meat and you buy the best meat. And then you have a system where you cook it properly, it’s real simple, it’s not complicated. And that’s how my son Paul has made Bascom’s Chophouse so popular and so successful. And he was a finance major, he didn’t know anything about food, but he knew how to run a business and then good common sense.




Joe: So, same question for what makes a good food distributor, what makes a good gas station, what makes a good hotel? 


Fred: All in the same bracket. 


Joe: Same bracket. 


Fred: Yeah, they all have the same basic needs and requirements to end up being successful. 


Joe: And if you had to rank those requirements, what are the top couple most important?


Fred: Well, first of all is management, it’s the commitment and willingness to stick through the deal through the thick and the thin, meaning when times aren’t good, you don’t pick it up and run. I mean, there’s a time to fold your cards as they say and a time to hold them.


Joe: Yeah, and if we dig into the management when you’re hiring someone to run something, I mean, assuming that they’re not in your family, what are the qualities that you’re looking for? I suppose intelligence has to be high on the list. 


Fred: I look at common sense and the ability to give it all they got, their commitment to work, their work ethic. And it has paid big dividends. I have some guys that have worked for me for years that are extraordinarily successful. And I hope that I made a contribution to their success and their future.


Joe: Right, so then would that align with that business is at the end of the day relatively straight-forward if you do it well, stay out of your own way, and keep doing the right things steadily that you’re going to win?


Fred: I don’t think there’s any question about it. If you’re patient and you’re committed, conduct yourself the right way and treat others like you want to be treated, yes, you’ll be successful. You’ve got to be able to weather the storm. And like I said, you’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them. So, that becomes an important element too. 


Joe: So, we owe Kenny Rogers a couple of bucks now for quoting him a couple of times?


Fred: Yeah, right. 


Joe: A common logic is that as you age money becomes less important, time becomes more important.


Fred: I don’t know when you reach the pinnacle of whether money becomes less important, it’s always important, but that’s true. There’s a time in your life when you look back and winning and losing in financial areas is like a game. And if you’re competitive, you never quit playing the game and that’s basically it, that’s just in your genes.




Joe: Yeah, so there’s a saying in poker that money is just a way of keeping score, right? And that’s the way you kind of look at business that way as well?


Fred: That’s exactly right. Well, you know, you like success and sometimes you’re going to have success without having to make any money and that’s important too.


Joe: I believe that wealth is sort of relative to what you’re used to in your early days. You know, a poor kid is probably equally as happy getting a used pick-up truck as a rich kid is happy getting a used Range Rover is equally happy.


Fred: There’s no question about it, that’s exactly right. I mean, I certainly was no- I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth and it has paid dividends because what it did it made me have an ambition to do better and to make my life better financially and economically and I strive for that and then the satisfaction that goes with it. And it’s a partial ego trip as well as successfully driven people and it’s also an observation of what other people have you’d like to have a little piece of that, you know?


Joe: Yeah, and you feel like you’ve seen that. So, you know, if you think about, as you’ve grown your wealth, the sort of measures of wealth change and with it. And so you start to compare yourselves to new levels of wealth. And when you did that was it around new levels of competition or new levels of life quality? 


Fred: You know, I don’t know if I ever really started any business with an ambition of thinking that it was going to be overly successful or very successful. And a lot of other people have played a role in my success to whatever you want to describe it as success because I’ve had my failures too. It’s all about striking a medium between opportunity and looking at it and managing it from a distance if you have partners or if you have someone working for you. It’s a hands-on thing and as long as you maintain a hands-on position and then let somebody else as strong and smart run it, that’s the best position to be in. 




Joe: Right. So, was there a point where I would say that if you have a certain lifestyle that you’re used to and you get to a point financially that you never have to work again and you can maintain that lifestyle and you’ve sort of gotten over that hump of comfort, right, that risk of sort of going broke or not being able to pay the bills or not being able to keep your lifestyle goes away.


Fred: I think you do achieve a certain level and it’s comforting to get there. Sometimes it’s not an easy voyage. 


Joe: Do you remember getting there? Do you remember the point where you said I’m just comfortable right now, the businesses that I do going forward I’m going to do, not for fun, but as a business to enjoy not because I need the money?


Fred: I think subliminally I think you think that way sometimes, but the excitement of doing things and succeeding at them or creating something plays a role in it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to create something.


Joe: So, on the negative side of that, is there a correlation to you needing bigger projects so that you still get that excitement?


Fred: You don’t know. At one time we had a construction operation that was one of the biggest in the country and then that failed due to all the banks that went upside down. We had 17 projects and out of 17 projects, 14 of them were financed by REITs and other institutions that were stretched thin and had lines of credit. And when that happened we ended up having to pay off all of our subcontractors and all of the people that we dealt with, but we didn’t get paid. So, that was the company that basically was very successful, but ended up being unsuccessful because of somebody else’s failure. So, when you look at those kinds of things I never achieved a level in life where I felt comfortable, I have had times in my life when I said I really don’t want to do much right now but that was because I was tired of doing something. 


Joe: So, when you think about business then a lot of people, I put myself in this category, I prefer to be a little bit stretched. If I get a little bit of headspace I start or add-on to something I’m doing or start something else. And I like to be there, but you’re more in the middle ground with that or?




Fred: No, I don’t think so. I think you look at situations that come up on the table and quite honestly a lot of things happen to you out of the blue. Somebody calls you, Fred would you be interested? Well, that sounds interesting. So, you begin to think this is sort of a challenge. Everything ends up being somewhat of a challenge and then if you want to enter the fight, enter the ring and start at it. And I find that challenging and interesting and exciting. And then sometimes when you get into it and you say oh my god, why did I do this for, you know? 


Joe: And how often do you get into putting money into things that you’re not directly involved in?


Fred: Not very often at all, I own zero stock. 


Joe: Interesting.


Fred: And I made that decision after trying many opportunities in investments in stock and some of them paid and some of them didn’t. But my fear of somebody else making my decisions has always been a little bit of a problem with me internally. In other words I just don’t have the confidence in the rest of the world and I should have maybe.


Joe: So, how does that translate when you take on partners?


Fred: Well, the partners I’ve had and have today usually developed from personal relationships. Very seldom have I ever gone outside of that. 


Joe: Got it. 


Fred: And I do deals with people that I like and know and trust.


Joe: And so I think you don’t have to have control in those. So, I think with the Semblers you guys were 50/50 in Bay Walk, so you were comfortable.


Fred: Yeah, as a matter of fact if you would ask me the great partners, they would be certainly one of them. Mel and his sons and the group I can’t imagine Craig Sher was at the time was running Sembler, but the bottom line is that my trust in that family- And we’re still very close friends was really a major part of our partnership and how it started.




Joe: And between the two of you, you built a big chunk of our community. And how much does that play into your awareness that you’re responsible for a lot of the great things that we have in the community?


Fred: Well, it’s nice to have the feeling that we made a contribution. And I continue to feel like that if you look at things that you do and you do them correctly and you do them right and you treat those around you with respect and you treat them the way that you should treat them that’s a contribution to your internal soul. And I think that is as important as anything else and I think Mel feels that way. So, we get involved in charitable work. My wife is involved with every charity in the world I think, at least it seems like it. But it’s comforting and it’s rewarding trying to help other people as well. 


Joe: And you named your last project after your wife, was this a special project for you? I know there’s a lot of it. 


Fred: It is and we’ve been married for about 50 years and I thought, you know, anybody puts up with me for this long and she’s a wonderful person, wonderful wife, and a wonderful mother, and a wonderful grandmother. I can’t imagine anybody deserving some form of honor in her name. And so that was part of it and my love for her and family and so forth. And a lot of people saying you shouldn’t do that, well I did it anyway. So, it didn’t matter what they thought because that’s the reason for it. 


Joe: You put forth your values and doing business and building things like that, how do you feel that is represented in St. Pete now? How do you feel St. Pete has changed and evolved over the last 20, 30 years that you’ve been watching and being a part of that? And what do you think we’re doing right and what do you think we’re doing wrong?




Fred: Well, wherever you find anything going on you find some things that are wrong and you find some things that are right. It’s interesting because when I first came to St. Petersburg and purchased Feather Sound and the surrounding lands where Carillon is now and also some properties between 4th Street and what is now I-75 which didn’t exist then. And I looked at St. Petersburg and I looked at the leadership in St. Petersburg and I looked at some of the elements of St. Petersburg and I looked at the St. Pete Times and I thought that’s a pretty good newspaper, although I’m a Republican by registration etc. I also have a liberal bend to me and I noticed that some of the things they did in St. Petersburg were contributing to the city itself, the leadership did. And I was very impressed with that. So, when I had an opportunity to go out to what would be the boundaries North of St. Petersburg we weren’t in the city limits and I saw a lot of things going on that St. Petersburg was doing and I actually was responsible for seeing a lot of the land and like Carillon and stuff between 4th Street and I-75 and some stuff across from Roosevelt Blvd. I actually annexed all of that or I got it annexed in an effort to help a little bit of everybody. Well, it ended up being the right move, sometimes you second guess yourself. 


Joe: So, what do you mean by annexed and what was the-?


Fred: Well, we moved from the county into the city of St. Petersburg – all of that land. 


Joe: So, since you owned it, you asked it to be included in the city?


Fred: Yeah, exactly. And we first started out we owned a company, General Clark and I had a start-up company called Security Tax Systems and we used to manufacture tags for anti-theft devices on clothing. And we owned a piece of property across the interstate and the city came to me and asked me would you consider annexing that? And I said if you run sewer and water into it, I would, and they did. 


Joe: Good trade. 


Fred: And zoned it, it was a good trade. And then we jumped 75 and came across to where Carillon is and that’s the history. 


Joe: Interesting. See now the security tags you threw out there makes me want to ask is there any business that you haven’t been in that you want to be in? Did you miss out on any?




Fred: I can’t think of anything that I want to be into honestly. No, we’ve been into everything, we’ve manufactured televisions in China and tags for example we made in China as well and some of them we made in Sweden. But it was an interesting format, you know, the food distribution business, we’ve been in that. I’ve always had partners in most of those kinds of things are people that were running them. I did not do the day to day run of the management. And they’ve all for the most part been very successful because I had the right idea picking the right guys and the right partners. 


Joe: Right. I enjoyed the conversation, I want to finish up with asking you what gives you meaning in your daily life as you sit right now. 


Fred: My family, my grandchildren, my children, my grandchildren, my wife, that’s really the center part of my life and my close friends. So, I’m getting at the age now where that’s all I think about really. So, the business world is secondary to me at this point in my life, very much so.


Joe: I appreciate the time, thanks.


Fred: You’re welcome.


Transcription ends [00:31:23]


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About the host

Joe Hamilton is publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, co-founder of The St. Petersburg Group, a partner at SeedFunders, fund director at the Catalyst Fund and host of St. Pete X.

About the St.Petersburg Group

The St. Petersburg Group brings together some of the finest thinkers in the area. Our team is civic minded, with strong business acumen. We seek to solve big problems for big benefit to the city, its businesses and its citizens.