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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 9, 2004 16 years ago

Maggi the Contrarian

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Julio Maggi will have ample opportunity to tackle tough issues as the 2004 president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Properties.

Maggi the Contrarian

Julio Maggi will have ample opportunity to tackle tough issues as the 2004 president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Properties.

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Julio Maggi hadn't worked long at Echelon Development LLC when his boss assigned to him a somewhat unusual task for a commercial real estate professional with a background in architectural design.

Darryl LeClair, president of the St. Petersburg-based commercial development company, long harbored concerns over traffic access problems at Carillon Park, the company's 432-acre mixed-use business park in Pinellas County's Gateway office and industrial submarket. There was no southbound traffic ramp to Interstate 275 at Ulmerton Road, a key access point for businesses in the Gateway submarket and about 30,000 employees who work there.

But LeClair's concern became a problem in the late 1990s as Catalina Marketing Corp. debated whether to relocate its headquarters to Carillon Park. The deal stalled as Catalina officials voiced concerns about the lack of southbound access to I-275 and the potential impact on its work force.

Undaunted, LeClair assigned Maggi to solve the problem. Maggi dove into the task, recruiting an informal business lobby of local chief executives. Under his leadership, this loose-knit business coalition pressed state and local officials about the problem. Not long afterward the state appropriated $2 million in transportation impact fee grants to build the southbound traffic ramp.

Maggi's performance went mostly unnoticed publicly, except among his peers and the public policymakers involved in the issue. Such problem-solving skills account partly for why members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Industrial Office Properties have elected Maggi as their 2004 president.

But there are plenty of other reasons why the NAIOP Tampa Bay membership elected Maggi, says Russ Sampson, the group's immediate past president. It may be because of his tendency to speak candidly and enthusiastically about public policy issues. But it's certain they also chose him because of his reputation for hard work.

"I know Julio very well," says Sampson, executive vice president in the Tampa office of Colliers Arnold Commercial Real Estate Services. "He's a great guy and a hard worker. He also has an architectural degree. That degree, I think, gives him a greater insight into development and planning than your typical real estate developer or investor. Julio will make a great president. He has a lot of passion for the industry as well as NAIOP."

Speaking candidly

Leadership comes to mind when Sen. Jim Sebesta recalls Maggi's role in the Catalina-traffic issue. The Republican senator from St. Petersburg, a champion on Tampa Bay area transportation issues, pushed for the $2 million grant.

"Julio was a great help to me putting that whole scenario together," Sebesta recalls. "He played a very important role in that. We worked on that for several months, and I really thank Julio for that. He showed a lot of leadership."

That endeavor not only secured funding for the southbound traffic ramp. It also helped to accelerate about $33 million in other traffic improvements on I-275 from Roosevelt Boulevard to Ulmerton, including a flyover ramp linking Ulmerton to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Construction completion is scheduled for later this year.

Asked how others view his leadership abilities, Maggi says they probably would compare him to the literary character Don Quixote. Maggi acknowledges he, too, sometimes tilts at windmills.

"Only I know a windmill is a windmill and not a dragon," he says, referring to Quixote's fanciful hallucination. "I'm a guy who is not short on dreams and vision but who also recognizes life's realities. I also know that things change. If you push hard enough, pound the rock hard enough, you can accomplish great things beyond what most people think are realistically possible."

When he raises the hammer, however, it invariably falls on what he considers the granite-like parochial allegiances that impede the Tampa Bay area's development as a world-class metropolitan market with about 3 million residents in a seven-county region. Just in Pinellas County, he cites as an example, 24 municipal governments and the county government create almost an unmanageable maze of bureaucratic red tape for development and economic growth. Differences among each of the seven counties only compound the problem.

"Beyond the obvious operational inefficiencies, it stifles, if not prevents, intergovernmental cooperation and coordination," he says. "It renders consensus on a comprehensive vision for the future nearly impossible. That renders cooperation toward implementation of such a vision moot. In spite of that, it is encouraging to see good things happening through localized efforts. Imagine the political clout in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., of a unified Tampa Bay (region)."

In that light, Maggi's intends to focus most of his time as NAIOP Tampa Bay president on public policy issues that affect developers throughout the seven-county region - Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties. Underlying that goal, he wants to forge a greater consensus through more cooperative relationships with other developer groups such as the Tampa Bay Builders Association and local members of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"The traditional lines are blurring," he says. "Developers who once pursued exclusively office buildings are now engaged in retail and residential projects. Retail development projects are now including office and residential components. Our individual interests are becoming more intertwined, if not aligned."

Common cause

If any one issue intertwines these development advocates, Maggi says, it's a proposed constitutional amendment - Florida Hometown Democracy. The grassroots initiative proposes a popular vote on every city or county comprehensive land use change. If the initiative makes the ballot, Maggi predicts potentially dire consequences for the state economy. He fears voters will approve the amendment without hesitation.

"What a great name for an amendment," he says. "How can anyone not be in favor of hometown democracy? People are angry about the official handling and effects of flawed and misguided land use policies. The proponents of the amendment no longer trust elected officials to preside over these policies. So they propose that any and all comprehensive plan amendments require popular referendum. They have a right to be upset.

"However, in my opinion, our comprehensive plans need to be radically overhauled, not frozen," he adds. "This proposed amendment would effectively prevent change at a time when change is desperately needed."

This is a public policy issue that will test Maggi's leadership abilities, Sampson says. He should know, having worked with Maggi four years during the late 1990s at Echelon.

"(The proposed amendment) is as important an issue facing the real estate industry in the state of Florida as we've probably seen since the impact fee intrusion of the '80s," Sampson says. "It's interesting this time around the government officials, I believe, are on the same side as the commercial real estate industry. It's definitely going to be a huge challenge.

"If you just think about the words, Florida Hometown Democracy, it sounds like a good idea to the uneducated voter," he adds. "But in the event it would pass, it would just have nuclear devastation throughout the state."

It's also Sampson's view that Maggi possesses those critical leadership skills that could play an important role in rallying the development community around this common cause.

"Julio is a very persistent, big picture thinker," Sampson says. "He also has the ability to get people on board. He brings people together around a cause."

Subtle leadership

Such leadership ability became even more apparent last year while Maggi served as a member of the Pinellas Assembly Transportation Integration Task Force, a group of public-private volunteers charged by the Pinellas County Commission to identify local transportation solutions.

In the early stages of its formation, the task force focused much of its attention on public transportation - particularly light rail - as priority issues, says Donald R. Crane, a former St. Petersburg state representative and an outspoken transportation activist.

With the subtlety of an experienced diplomat, Crane says, Maggi encouraged the task force to look at transportation as it related to land use and economic development issues.

"He was so subtle on this committee," says Crane, who served for years as president of the Floridians for Better Transportation, a business-backed advocacy group. "I knew where he was coming from. I think some of them were afraid (Maggi's suggestions) would stop everything until we did a land use plan. But Julio convinced them that both can go on simultaneously."

With the group's approval, Crane says, Maggi rewrote a task force white paper to incorporate his ideas on the inseparability of transportation, land use and economic development. In mid-December, the task force signed off on the rewritten white paper. In it, the task force "recommends an aggressive, multipronged approach that simultaneously addresses (1) land use policy, (2) transportation funding and (3) transportation capacity improvements."

"I told Julio the other day on the phone I wish more people would spend time on these kind of land use-transportation issues, and he said, 'It's our responsibility to do just that,' " Crane says. "So many people will go to sit on these panels and committees, but they don't give it a thought between meetings. But when this white paper was written, we as the committee had some concerns about it. So Julio took the time to rewrite the paper to express the direction the committee wanted the white paper to state. And the committee signed off on it.

"In that context, Julio has been by far the most outspoken on this rather small panel about changing the land use patterns in Pinellas County to better address our transportation needs," he adds.

Some might call his ideas too idealistic, Maggi acknowledges. It's also certain he is willing to challenge conventional thinking. "Sometimes you have to take a position that conveys a point, even if the bar's a little higher," he says. "Yes, I do push harder. As I think about leadership style, I tend to be pretty much idealistic. As for rhetoric and positioning, I'm also pretty realistic about what can be accomplished."

Maggi: Architect and Developer

By David R. Corder

Associate Editor

Since childhood Julio Maggi wanted to become an architect. He went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in pursuit of that dream, earning a bachelor's degree in building science and a master's in architecture. But job opportunities for young architects seemed far and few in the late '70s and early '80s.

"I had dreamed of being an apprentice to the likes of (nationally renown architects) Richard Meier, Michael Graves or Frank Gherry," says Maggi, 47. "None of them seemed to be hiring at the time."

Career Track

Instead, Maggi took a job as a project engineer in St. Petersburg with Federal Construction Co. As a project engineer, he worked on the construction of the 300,000-square-foot TECO Plaza office building in downtown Tampa. That's where he met Don Rutland, a Landmarks Group partner and TECO Plaza developer. Rutland in turn recruited him.

"That's how I got introduced to the commercial real estate development business," he says.

In 1983, Maggi reconnected with a former Federal Construction colleague, George Nathan, who had joined Lincoln Property Co. For 14 years, Maggi worked on Lincoln Property projects such as the Urban Centre, Harbour Island and the Hillsborough County Center in Tampa; SunBank Center, Church Street Market and the new city hall in Orlando; and City Commons in Tallahassee.

In 1997, Darryl LeClair, president of St. Petersburg-based Echelon Development LLC, recruited Maggi. He wanted the newly hired vice president to focus on Carillon Park, the company's 432-acre mixed-use corporate Park in Pinellas County's Gateway community.

Last year, Echelon Development spun off a new company, Echelon Properties LLC. Maggi became a partner in the venture with LeClair and long-time Echelon executives Susan Johnson and Mark Stroud. They formed the new corporation as a holding company for Echelon Real Estate Services LLC, a commercial real estate company with an emphasis on third-party leasing, brokerage, investment sales and property management services.

"We are set up to pursue acquisitions as well as development deals," Maggi says. "I intend to work very hard to make this new platform very successful."

Personal Influences

Born in Matanzas, Cuba, Maggi relocated with his family at age 3 to Queens, N.Y., and later to Matawan, N.J.

Notwithstanding professional influences, Maggi attributes much of his work ethic to his late father, Orlando Bethencourt Maggi.

"Although he died when I was only 18 years old, he taught me the value of hard work, integrity and a good name," he says. "He taught me that despite the cultural revolution and the moral relativism that emerged prominently in the 1960s there is right and there is wrong. His example gave me the strength to choose the right path and the courage to follow it."

Following the father's death, his mother relocated to Palm Harbor. He knew then the Tampa Bay area would become his home.

A family man, Maggi married his wife, Leslie Ann, seven years ago. The couple has one daughter, Marina, 3. He has four other children, Canon, 23, Clara, 18, Seanna, 17 and Lauren, 15.

Favorite Project

Of all his accomplishments, Maggi cites his work in the late '80s and early '90s on the new Orlando City Hall as the most satisfying.

The Lincoln Property deal involved a fee-based project on city-owned land with future development rights on an abutting city-owned property. It took the city nine months to narrow bid selection to Lincoln Property, and contract negotiations took more than a year.

Adding to the complexity of the deal, Maggi says the new building went up just two feet from the old city hall building.

"Upon completion, the old building was imploded and dropped in its own footprint without damaging the new building, live on camera for one of 'The Lethal Weapon' movies," he says. "The project was completed without a hitch.

"It is spectacular, having turned out to be a prominent landmark and a significant catalyst in the renaissance of downtown Orlando," he adds. "Whenever I drive past Orlando on I-4, I look at that project and smile, proud to have been a part of it."

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