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NY billionaire talks about his St. Pete tower on visit

John Catsimatidis Sr. filmed a commercial and gave an update on his 46-story tower under construction in downtown St. Petersburg.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. January 30, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
John Catsimatidis Sr., the owner of the New York-based real estate firm Red Apple Group, the developer behind the Residences at 400 Central in St. Petersburg.
John Catsimatidis Sr., the owner of the New York-based real estate firm Red Apple Group, the developer behind the Residences at 400 Central in St. Petersburg.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Commercial Real Estate
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Nearly 15 months after a ceremonial groundbreaking event, the billionaire developer behind the $400 million Residences at 400 Central in St. Petersburg paid a visit to the city Jan. 28 to see the site of what’s expected to be the largest residential tower on the Gulf Coast.

Rather than tussle with affordable housing protesters and glad hand with well-wishers at a staged event as he did in October 2021, this time John Catsimatidis Sr. held court at the tower’s sales office after filming a promotional video on the construction site to provide an update on the tower and to discuss his plans for St. Petersburg.

“I tell New Yorkers, to quasi threaten them, that my next billion is definitely going to be spent in Florida.” 

He spoke, though often declining to provide details, of having a team in the city looking for new investment opportunities; of taking a $252 million construction loan despite being able to self-fund the project; of one-third of the building already being sold; of the potentially eminent announcement of tenants for 40,000-square feet of office space, and the hope for adding an additional 40,000 square feet; of spending more money than his advisors advised to build an observatory in the tower; of beginning to advertise the tower in New York; and of the price of material going down slightly as some supply chain issues eased.

The 46-story 400 Central, when completed, will include 301 units, an observatory and several penthouses. In addition to the residences, the property will include retail and office space. The tower is being developed by Catsimatidis’ Red Apple Group on a 2.3-acre site on Central Avenue and 4th Street South, a property which once housed the cheese grater building.

Overall, he painted picture of a project well on its way to completion, with a planned 6,500 cubic yards of concrete being poured in the next several weeks — the equivalent of five basketball courts filled eight feet deep.

“I tell New Yorkers, to quasi threaten them, that my next billion is definitely going to be spent in Florida.”

But the 70-something-year-old developer with the sly sense of humor — a two-time New York City mayoral candidate,  founder of the supermarket chain Gristedes and  radio show host — is not a man who stays on topic for long. During the conversation, the colorful, or some may say brash, businessman veered off on host of subjects, tackling interest rate hikes, crime in New York, immigration, his upcoming book, giving kids in need a hand up and his plans for Coney Island.

“If you get too bored, let me know,” he says at one point. Though boring is not a word many would likely associate with Catsimatidis.

This, after all, is a man who is planning to erect a statue of his mother-in-law in the massive residential development under construction in downtown St. Petersburg. “She deserves it,” he says. “Her husband, my wife’s step-father, kept telling me, ‘you have to invest in St. Pete.’ He kept saying that. And I finally did.”

Speaking in the lobby of the sales office, Catsimatidis was flanked by his son John Catsimatidis Jr.

Both men say  the family business has been able to fight off economic challenges other businesses have faced because of its diversity of interests. Catsimatidis says his son is the chief investment officer for Red Apple “and the markets have treated him well,” and that the family has interests in the oil business.  “We have alternative sources of income. We’re not just dependent on real estate.

According to Forbes, Catsimatidis, who wore an Apple watch, sensible black shoes and had to be told to comb his hair, is worth $4.1 billion.  

But, while his thick accent and showy presentation makes it easy to fill column inches, there was a theme that ran through his commentary. What the world needs now, he says and has told the nation’s leaders, is not partisan bickering or for the political extremes on each side to be in charge, but a level-headed approach to tackling the daunting problems facing the country. Be that devising fiscal policies, education or crime prevention.

“One of our former Democratic presidents (I’m) good friends with, I texted him on New Year’s Day and I said my dream for New Year’s, the new year, 2023, is that common sense prevails,” Catsimatidis says. “And he agreed with me 100%. That’s what we need, common sense.”

Pressed on who that former president was, he reverted to form, saying, with a devious smile that is as endearing as it is all knowing, “I can’t tell you.”

Correction: This article has been updated. The developers of the Residences at 400 Central are pouring 6,500 cubic yards of concrete.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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