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Silhouettes profiles Ron Christaldi

Ron Christaldi


This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

As a law student at Florida State University, Ronald Christaldi was “blessed” to be recruited as a clerk for Tampa’s de la Parte and Gilbert P.A. He was even more “fortunate” when the firm hired him a year later, in 1996, as a new attorney.
Lou de la Parte, along with his son, David de la Parte, who had taken over the firm by that point, were local icons, idealized both as attorneys and as community leaders. By the time Christaldi joined de la Parte and Gilbert, Lou had mostly stepped back from his role with the firm as he focused on health issues. Still, the company culture was steeped in Lou’s beliefs, which his son upheld.
“There was this tradition there, a sense of responsibility to the community,” Christaldi said. The firm stressed “community involvement, being politically engaged and helping to shore good government” through their work as well as in their personal lives.
He worked for the firm for 12 years with David serving as a mentor for him as he carved out his career. “[David] was the best mentor anybody could hope for,” Christaldi said.
Because of David’s encouragement, he became involved with numerous community and business organizations, serving in leadership roles at many of them. “It’s one thing that David also mentored me on,” he said. “If you’re going to do something, don’t do things just to build your resume; do things you believe in, and if you do them, do them full throttle.”
This reinforced what he learned as a young age: as an attorney, he could help people in need.
As a fifth-grader growing up in south New Jersey, Christaldi was selected for a special program for academically gifted students. During one lesson, their teachers secretly organized a lesson about the legal system for these students.
“In class, they pretended they had a fender bender outside and began to fake argue in front of us without us realizing it wasn’t real,” he said.
One teacher then pulled out a fake gun and shot the other. “They wouldn’t do this in a classroom today,” he said.
Christaldi was selected as the defense attorney in the ensuing mock trial. He was so excited about this role that his mother took him to meet with a local public defender in Camden, New Jersey, who advised that he claim “temporary insanity” for his client, who made a bad decision “in the heat of the moment.”
The mock judge and jurors ruled in his favor – the only ruling that sided with the defense in similar mock trials at other local schools. “I got that defense verdict and I knew that day that I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “I didn’t have any true conception of what being a lawyer was, but it became my passion. Really, I loved that feeling of helping someone who otherwise couldn’t help themselves.”
He went on to earn his undergraduate degree at New College of Florida in Sarasota, and then earned his masters and law degree from Florida State University.
He hit the ground running with de la Parte and Gilbert P.A. In 2007, he joined Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, where he serves as partner, management committee member, healthcare co-administrator and president/CEO of Shumaker Advisors Florida, LLC.
The entire time, Christaldi’s work with the community has been just important to him as his work as an attorney.
He’s served in leadership roles at a number of organizations including The Spring of Tampa Bay, where he served on the board of directors from 2009 to 2014 and was vice chair. For him, “protecting and providing support and a way out for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society” was important.
He’s also worked with the Lions Eye Institute, Tampa Theatre’s Facility Master Plan Task Force, a variety of local and national bas asssociations, Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts and Youth Environmental Services.
The role that prepared him for his current community passion – bringing the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City – was his work with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
In this capacity, serving as chair at one point, he focused on the economic impact of sports, particularly the Rays, on the Tampa Bay area. He toured other cities, checking out their transportation and stadiums, and how they used baseball to revitalize neighborhoods.
Last year, as the Rays began to explore their options for a new stadium, Christaldi and Chuck Sykes, also a former chamber chair, began discussing how they could keep the stadium in the Tampa Bay region. They created Tampa Bay Rays 2020, a non-profit organization that encourages community support of bringing the Rays to Ybor City.
Earlier this year, the Rays unveiled a new 14-acre site in Ybor City bound by Channelside Drive, 4th Avenue, 15th Street and Adamo Drive.
Bringing the stadium to Ybor City is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Christaldi said.
Relocating the baseball team to Ybor City will add to the area’s sense of community, he said. “What sports does for a community is bring people together. It gives kids role models, people a sense of place, gives them something to rally behind, and builds that sense of what it means to be Tampa Bay and what it means to be a community.”
It’s also a business opportunity for the region, he said. “It gives great exposure to the community,” he said. Often, when you poll visitors about the Tampa Bay area, the beaches and weathers stand out at the top of the list. “We’re in a very competitive global environment,” he said. “We’ve got to be in a place where people to need to think about us more than just a beach place if our children are going to have a future here and we’re going to bring jobs here.”
Sports franchise “are economic engines,” he said. They drive the local economy through hotel stays, restaurant visits and other tourism opportunities, and eventually trickle into “spin-off type of activity.”
Through their non-profit, he and Sykes created the Rays 100, a group of business leaders who support the team’s move to Ybor City. They held the launch for this group last month. Those involved spread the word about the new stadium to their own social, civic and business circles.
The new stadium will “be full circle” for “the buildout and redevelopment of downtown and Ybor City,” Christaldi said.
He considers many of the new spaces in and around downtown Tampa: from the Armature Works in Tampa Heights to Jeff Vinik’s investment in Channelside to the outer portions of Ybor City. “Now all of a sudden you’ve got this ring around this core of downtown that is walkable and has a lot of things going on,” he said.
While there “is always a naysayer here and there,” he’s confident that this is the right plan for Ybor City and the Rays. “People are skeptical, which is different from being negative,” he said. “People were skeptical about getting the Rays here in the first place or the [Tampa Bay] Lightning or building an aquarium or an airport, but the community really pulled together and made it happen. I see the fundamental pieces of this falling into line.”

Silhouettes Profiles Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez


This article originally appeared in the March. 23, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As a first-generation American, Anthony Perez doesn’t take for granted how hard his family worked when they first moved to this country. In fact, he leans on their story and their early struggles as inspiration for his banking career and his work with Tampa’s Hispanic community.
His family were milk distributors in Cuba when Fidel Castro took control of the government. He was told by his parents that for a while, they went about their business, delivering milk. But one morning, in the mid-1960s, they were greeted by men with rifles outside their home. They were told they could either work on a government-run farm or leave the country. A plane sponsored by Catholic Charities was about to take off.
His family – his young parents, just teenagers at the time, and his maternal grandparents and uncle – chose to leave. Going back into their home with just enough time to pack a bag, they were rushed to the plane that was heading for Spain.
After two years living in Spanish homes sponsored by the Catholic Church, eventually they were placed permanently in the United States and immigrated to Chicago.
When they arrived, they didn’t have much money. But they were able to purchase a single car jack and used that to start a company fixing flat tires. For years, they focused on roadside assistance, but their business grew into an auto part distribution company, Garcia’s Auto Parts – named after his maternal grandfather – which at one point had 11 warehouses throughout the city of Chicago.
Perez especially recalls one childhood conversation with his uncle that shapes him to this day. When he was about 8 years old, his uncle took him for a drive and parked on the side of a street at one of Chicago’s busiest intersections. For a while, they watched people drive and walk by. Then his uncle said to him, “I want you to look around you. See all these beautiful people – he called them beautiful people. You know why I’m covered in oil and why I’m dressed like this? So you don’t have to be.”
Perez said, “That stuck with me. It’s always inspired me, always encouraged me while growing up. I had the freedom to be what I wanted to be. I’m grateful for that kind of upbringing.”
His parents lived modestly, sacrificing to send him and his sister to private school. When he was about 10 years old, they moved to Daytona Beach because he had severe asthma. His uncle ran the auto parts company day to day, while his father helped from afar and his mother went back to school to become a nurse.
From a young age, Perez dreamed of a career in the hotel industry. “I always wanted to own my own hotel,” he said. “I wanted to be the largest franchise owner of a Marriott hotel.” Growing up, many of his birthday parties had been held poolside at Marriott hotels, his parents renting space for him and his friends to play.
So he earned a full ride to the University of Central Florida, where he earned a degree in hotel management. His parents stressed the importance of education, he added. “Education was always super important. Education is something they can never take away from you.”
While attending UCF, he was awarded a coveted four-year internship at Marriott’s Orlando World Center. He hoped this would parlay into a permanent position after college, but after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, the hospitality industry took a hit, he said. “So it wasn’t moving at the pace I was hoping for.”
Instead, he said, “Bank of America found me.” The company held annual hiring events at the Marriott. So the recruiter asked Perez if he had ever considered a career in banking.
At first, he told them he wasn’t interested. But when Bank of America returned to the Marriott the following year, he had a different answer for them.
He was chosen as one of 15 for a selective training class, and was the only one of this class hired as a branch manager and given the keys to a bank – the other trainees were hired in different roles.
After several years with Bank of America, he returned to Chicago to work for the family business. “I thought, I have a degree. I’m a banker. I know what I’m doing,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to go from your feet in the sand to your feet in the snow. On top of that, I grossly underestimated what it takes to be a business owner.”
Still, he wanted to pay his dues and help his family. But work anxiety kept him up at night and distracted him from life. Eventually he had to tell his uncle that he didn’t think the family business was a good fit for him.
His uncle, understood, and told him, “Go back to Florida, kid. This was never meant for you.”
Perez took a job as Tampa branch manager of BMO Harris Bank. He had been looking for the right company to join. “I wanted to find an organization that would invest in me,” he said, and BMO Harris not only supported his earning an MBA, but funded his education at the University of South Florida.
After 11 years with BMO Harris, he left in October, as assistant vice president, to join the Bank of Tampa as vice president of commercial relationship management. “Everybody in Tampa knows, as a banker, that if you get an opportunity to be with the Bank of Tampa, you take it,” he said.
What he has come to appreciate most about banking is the community involvement. “Each bank touts this,” he said. “But I’ve been experiencing it now more than ever with the Bank of Tampa. I’ve got to give this bank tremendous credit, because they really put their money where their mouth is.”
Last year, the bank donated more than $700,000 to 200 local nonprofit organizations. So while other banks donate funds and services to charities, Bank of Tampa has more of an impact in the Tampa Bay area directly, Perez said.
While interviewing with Bank of Tampa, he was surprised by the accessibility of the company’s CEO, founder and other higher ranked employees. He was also surprised that much of the interview process focused on his passions, rather than his resume. “They were more interested in Anthony as a person than what Anthony can bring,” he said. “Instead, it was about what can we do for Anthony to make him the best he can be.”
When hired, he was given a budget to use to contribute to community organizations and events, and has been encouraged to give his time – even if it cuts into his work hours – to participate with these groups in a hands-on capacity.
Perez has always been interested in community work. “But now I get to do it at a much higher level,” he said.
Even before joining Bank of Tampa, he became a member of the city of Tampa’s Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board nearly three years ago. He’s currently in the midst of his second year as the group’s chair.
The group’s signature event is the Latinos Unidos luncheon, which drew nearly 550 people last year and since its inception has raised more than $1.4 million for college scholarships awarded to local Hispanic students to attend USF, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. This 20th annual event will take place May 8 at The Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
Through the help of the Vinik Foundation, the advisory board will launch a new event, Cafecito 813, April 11 at the HCC campus. The event will bring together leaders of various Hispanic serving organizations for networking and collaboration. “The problem in Tampa is there are so many organizations – so many of them – and none of them collaborate together. They’re very cards to the chest,” he said. “So we’ll all come together [at Cafecito 813] and take three to five minutes to share what each organization is doing, and then see how we can work together.”
He also sits on the board of USF’s Latino Foundation, and spends his time mentoring college students. After his grandmother, Olga Garcia, passed away in January, he and his cousins established a USF scholarship in her name.
“I can barely get my family out of the house in time for church,” Perez said, “and she took the family out of Cuba, to Spain and then Chicago. She took two trains and a bus to work every day for years. I guarantee you she was never late and never missed a day. So I said, you know what? We’re going to continue her legacy through this incredible, incredible program.”
Married for five years with three children of his own, supporting local youth has become one of his biggest passions. “Now that I have children myself, I’m kind of seeing the importance of this whole inspiration for kids,” he said. “People go on about this youngest generation – they’re entitled; they’re this; they’re that; they’re connected to their cell phones.”
But this couldn’t be further from the truth, he said. “Listen, I don’t know what young generation you’re looking at, but the generation I see every day that I work with through my mentorships are amazing people who are going to change this world in ways you’ve never dream up.”
While the scholarships for these young students are important, so, too, is the connection they have with older, successful individuals who can provide one-on-one insight and assistance. “I genuinely care about these young people,” Perez said. “It’s one thing to say they’re our future. But that’s bullshit. You can’t just say that. You need to take some kind of action. The scholarships are great. The information they need – they’re in the information age. They’ll find a way to get what they need. What they need is someone to tell them they’re amazing and give them that support.”

Silhouettes Profiles Peggy Land

Peggy and her champion, Majestic Delight.

This article originally appeared in the March. 9, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As far back as Peggy Land can remember, she’s been driven by two things: justice and kindness.
“So many people are not getting justice,” she said. “If you don’t have justice, what do you have?”
Growing up in Virginia, she was “a melancholy child. I couldn’t believe how people treated one another. They didn’t take care of children; they didn’t take care of older people. They’d call it depression now, but I thought then, how can I stay in this old world?”
Her grandmother helped shake her from this melancholy. “She’d always tell me, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’” Land said. “She’d say, ‘Honey, what difference does it make 20 years from now or 10 years from now? Just don’t let things bother you.’ That made a real difference for me.”
Eventually, she became empowered enough to realize she could have an impact the world “even just smiling at someone or being kind to someone makes a difference.”
She added, “As time went on, I found my voice and realized I could make a difference.”
Today, though she’s never run for office herself, Land is a force on the political scene and serves as a staunch ally to Democratic leaders at the local, state and federal levels.
She first moved to Tampa as a junior high school student. Her father’s health was poor and her parents thought the warmer climate might help. So they moved the family to Temple Terrace.
For high school, she and her twin sister, Patricia, moved back to Richmond to live with her older sister and brother-in-law. But after graduation, they returned to Tampa, though, turning down their aunt’s offer to fund their education at Sullins College, a women’s junior college in Virginia. “My twin sister said no way she was going to a girls’ school,” Land said. “So she decided to take a business course at Tampa College. I came back down with her.”
Uncertain about what she wanted to do, Land became focused on finding work, and, at first, took a job with William’s Pharmacy in Tampa. Eventually, she enrolled at Tampa College to study business, as well. While she was still in school, she was hired as an executive secretary at a new branch of the First Federal Savings & Loan opening on Dale Mabry Highway.
She met her eventual husband, John Land, at Tampa College. “Though I didn’t even notice him at first,” she said. “All I wanted to do was get a job. I was so focused on working and career that I did not notice him.”
He kept calling her, though, and eventually her mother suggested that she ought to call him back.
After they married, he formed a real estate development company, John Land Builders. He told his wife, “If you’re going to work for anybody, you’re going to work for me.”
“I told him, ‘I think you mean with you,’” Land said.
Their first project was an affordable housing subdivision near Robinson High School. Eventually their portfolio grew to include a range of housing types from affordable homes to high-end townhomes. She worked closely with interior designers to ensure each home was customized to their clients’ tastes and requests. “I handled all the details,” she said.
Eventually, she and her husband became involved in politics, though they never desired to be candidates themselves. “[John] never wanted to run for office. He just wanted good government,” she said.
He was president of a local homebuilders association, and eventually was appointed by three different governors to the state’s construction and licensing board. This was at a time when the construction industry was ripe with corruption, and state employees were selling licenses, she said. He tried to clean up the corrupt ways, “and I thought he was going to be assassinated.”
Longtime Republicans, the couple changed their party affiliation to Democrat in 2000 in support of Jim Davis’ run for Congress. Land’s family had been Republicans – her grandfather a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, she said. “Though I don’t think he carried a big stick. He just wanted to help people.”
So when she moved back to Florida after high school, she followed her family’s lead and registered to vote as a Republican. “But as time went on, and I saw the greed and the self-serving, I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m a Republican now,’” she said.
Since 2000, she has dedicated herself to the Democratic party, co-chairing the Distinguished Democrats Advisory Committee with Bill McBride. She went on to assist with McBride’s run for governor.
In addition to numerous local campaigns, she also served on finance committees for presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry, and attended both of their Democratic conventions. “I still think now what a difference it would have made if Al Gore had actually won,” Land said. “It would be a different world.”
She’s also involved with the upcoming 2018 elections, assisting with the campaign of Florida House District 60 candidate Debra Bellanti, who is facing Jackie Toledo for the seat.
Land also plans to back a Tampa mayoral candidate, but hasn’t decided which one just yet. “I’ll say this though, I won’t support anyone who doesn’t support relations with Cuba, that’s one of my top things. That and wanting to help the homeless,” she said.
In October, she visited Cuba with a group of local leaders including Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin and St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice. Land said she has always been fascinated by Cuba’s history, and was excited to experience its culture firsthand. “I’ve never had the opportunity to go before. I was taken with the architecture,” she said. She noted that other countries, including Russia and Brazil, have fostered a relationship that she wishes the United States could have. She’s disappointed by recent backward steps President Donald Trump’s administration has taken in regard to opening travel and trade with Cuba. “We’re missing out because of this ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ attitude. Cuba has so much to offer.”
She added, “I, as one individual, am going to do everything I can to promoted a closer relationship with Cuba.”
Outside of politics, Land gives back to the Tampa Bay community in other ways.
In the early 1980s, she was the first woman president of the Tampa Horse Show Association. She also went on to help found the Gasparilla Charity Horse Show.
Environmental issues have always been close to her heart, as well. She currently serves on the Feedback Committee for the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. She also worked with the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida to bring the documentary “Troubled Waters” to the Tampa Theatre.
Homelessness is another issue of importance to her. She serves on The Salvation Army Tampa board, and has worked closely with Metropolitan Ministries for decades. She recalls receiving a call for help from Metropolitan Ministries in the 1970s. “Back when it was just a soup kitchen and the gap house across the street,” she said. Because of zoning violations, the soup kitchen was on the verge of being shut down, and the gap house needed a new roof and bathrooms, she said. In addition to helping fund the projects, Land also brought in volunteer workers to get the jobs done. The projects were completed during the holiday season “and that was the best Christmas I ever had,” she said.
She continues to work closely with Metropolitan Ministries, supporting their efforts to help create a facility similar to Pinellas Safe Harbor in Hillsborough County. “I don’t think people should be arrested for being homeless,” she said. “It’s expensive. At Pinellas Safe Harbor, you have a case worker, a clinic if you need medical help, and you have a safe place to sleep, eat, and store your belonging. And a case worker is helping you. You can go out in the day time and look for a job, and you come back at night. This all makes sense.” She hopes with a changing of the guard in November, with a new mayor and a new sheriff in place, this can become a reality.
Land is always on the lookout for Democratic candidates who embrace these issues that are so important to her.
She’s “fired up” for the 2018 midterm elections. “I’m so unhappy with our Republican leadership,” she said.
She’s excited by the Democratic Party’s building momentum. “Everyone keeps saying it’s going to be a blue wave in 2018,” she said. “I say, oh no, it’s going to be a blue tsunami.”
She’s amazed by the number of women running for office. In 2017, 25,000 women ran for political seats at different levels. “The two previous years, there were 5,000 combined,” she said. There are even more running this year.
“Women, we are the nurturers, and you don’t take advantage of our children. We just aren’t going to stand for it,” Land said. “So Republicans are in for a big jolt, if they’re not already feeling it. It’s going to be a tsunami, not just a blue wave.”

A Tale of Two Cities

This article originally appeared in the March. 23, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
Chairman of the Bored
A Tale of Two Cities
By: Gene Siudut
The prospect of the Rays coming to Ybor City is very exciting and may be the most significant move here since Vicente Martinez-Ybor left Key West. The groundswell is significant and all throughout Ybor City, signs welcome the Rays and proclaim “RaYbor City” the team’s new home.
But there are some who are not happy. Their unhappiness is not about the potential move, possible public funding nor the location of the stadium. It’s about the marketing.
First, a little history.
A little over a decade ago, a few community leaders, such as Carrie West, started the GaYBOR District Coalition in support of the LGBTA community in Ybor City and served as a way for business owners to express their support of equality for all, to paraphrase its mission.
There was a lot of blowback at the time because of the name choice. Many interested parties, including this newspaper, were not in favor of renaming a piece of the district. There wasn’t a problem with its mission, at least as far as La Gaceta was concerned, but changing the name of a piece of the district seemed a bridge too far.
Over a decade later, GaYBOR is still here, and while the coalition is not as visible as it was 10 years ago, it is still strong and relevant. There was never an official name change, but the hub around the corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street is known as GaYBOR and is marketed as such.
That fact rubs some people the wrong way. They feel that the village in which they grew up has been renamed to serve one group when Ybor was, and is, representative of all cultures.
And now we have the RaYbor issue. There are those who don’t want the team here, don’t want public dollars spent and don’t want Ybor to become subservient to Major League Baseball.
Those are all relevant concerns, but without a funding plan, stadium design, choice of vendors, sponsorships or any other plans save for a site designation, people are trying to split up a pie that has yet to be baked.
Actually, it’s worse. They have no idea what flavor the pie will be, but they know they don’t want it, like a toddler who who’s never tasted broccoli but knows not to eat it.
The Rays chose Ybor City as the team’s future home and in turn, our community is showing the team love. Part of that love is marketing to locals that we are in support of the move. Tampa Bay Rays 2020 was founded to help facilitate that support and several locals have come up with ways to express that support.
One form of support has been with banners throughout the historic district with “RaYbor” emblazoned upon the welcoming messages.
Where RaYbor and GaYBOR diverge in terms of naming is that there is no movement to change the name of any part of Ybor City. They Rays haven’t asked for a change and the creators of the RaYbor name have no desire for any such change. It is just marketing and not meant to insult anyone.
La Gaceta is what some would call a liberal-leaning newspaper. With that moniker, we are often accused of being too sensitive and easily offended by slights that most people would not consider. Being the voice for the voiceless when we can, we take that as a compliment to inform the masses but this is different.
La Gaceta has Ybor’s past, present and future at heart. I hope people out there believe that if we are for this marketing term, the rest of you should take no offense to it as well. It’s no different than hearing people call the Hillsborough River the O’Hillsborough when it was dyed green over the weekend. It’s a fun play on words meant to drive discussion.
So please discuss.
Gene Siudut can be contacted by emailing gsiudut@lagacetanewspaper.com

Silhouettes profiles Owen Robertson

Owen Robertson


This article originally appeared in the March. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Most people are surprised to learn this about Owen Robertson – after all, he’s a college educator, in addition to theater producer, actor, director and playwright – but as a teenager he was “a very poor student.”
He said, “I’m an absolute advocate for students doing well in school. I’m an educator, but I also know all the tricks to get out of it.”
Growing up just outside Washington, D.C., he graduated from high school with a 1.9 GPA, ranking 512 in a class of 516. Though he tested well and scored high on his SAT, with his GPA, he wasn’t accepted into any colleges. The only option Robertson had was to enlist in the U.S. Army. “There was a lack of choices in my life,” he said.
This was the start of his “eclectic background” that eventually led him to pursuing theater life as a full-time occupation later in life.
First, though, he served in the Army. Stationed in Fort Bragg, he was part of the 16th Military Police Brigade. He was sent to Honduras, was part of the Panama invasion and assisted with relief efforts after Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix. He went on to become a criminal investigator for the military, specializing in homicide investigation.
After his time in the military, Robertson enrolled at George Mason University as a criminal justice major. Eventually, he changed this to history. Then, a friend at his university who knew he had done theater in high school badgered him into auditioning for an upcoming show, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “I remember, I was in astronomy class with 300 other students and a friend of mine in the theater program kept bugging me about auditioning and wouldn’t stop until I agreed,” he said. “So I did, and I was cast in a fairly sizable role.” After the show, he changed his major to theater.
But when his son was born, he left the program to focus on providing for his family. He took a job in retail banking and later bank security. Then he took a job with a third-party logistics company that eventually moved him to Tampa in 2003. He went on to start his own company in the same field. “But the timing on that was poor,” he said. “We opened up the doors in 2007, right before the market crashed. So that didn’t last long.”
This was a wake-up call for him. When his company shut down in 2010, he decided to turn his passion for theater into his profession. “I really wanted to follow my heart and my calling and figure out how to be a full-time theater artist,” Robertson said.
He’d been involved with theater since that first college performance in 1992, but never thought he could turn it into his career. “I had figured out how to do the day job business and my nights were spent in theater,” he said.
He began auditioning for more professional theater companies and did his first professional show at Tampa’s Jobsite Theater in a production of Quills.
Since then, he’s been involved with more than 100 shows in various roles – actor, designer and even director around 50 productions. “It’s kind of been my calling card to be able to fit into any aspect of theater,” he said. “The only thing I don’t do is sew. So I’m not a costumer. But I was smart enough to marry one.”
In 2010, Robertson also decided to finish his undergraduate degree at St. Leo’s University. He completed a bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in dramaturgy in 2013. The following year, he was accepted into the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s Master of Fine Arts Writing for Stage and Screen program.
Writing and storytelling are nothing new for him. In fact, much like his love of theater, his writing roots go back to high school. “I’m one of the original Dungeons & Dragons kids,” he said. “I speak to the box set, which sadly speaks to my age. I remember the original box set, playing it on the back of the school bus, hunkered down so nobody could see us. As a game master, storytelling came naturally to me. But structured writing didn’t happen until St. Leo.”
In the fall, he’ll begin a doctorate program in literacy studies at the University of South Florida. An adjunct English instructor for Schiller International University and the Ultimate Medical Academy, so this “kind of ties my life together,” he said.
All of these experiences led to him creating the Lab Theater Project, based at Ybor City’s Silver Meteor Gallery, in 2015. Each season focuses on emerging playwrights. “It’s strictly new work,” Robertson said. “That’s all we do.”
Having written only five plays himself, he considers himself an emerging playwright as well. “That’s probably part of why Lab works so well, because I understand where [these new playwrights are] at and I’m able to speak to them as a playwright,” he said. “As a playwright, you’re very protective of your work, which is absolutely right and they should be. But most emerging playwrights haven’t been through the production process. It’s actually a really difficult path for new playwrights to get their stories told. Most [theater companies] won’t take a risk and give them a chance.”
His relationship with Silver Meteor founder Michael Murphy has been another key to Lab Theater’s success, Robertson said. “Mike Murphy is a giant supporter of the arts. Silver Meteor has been around as a performance venue for 26, 27 years, Jobsite [Theater] started there. Hat Trick [Theatre Productions] started there. I’m just the next company in line.” Eventually, as Lab Theater grows, he hopes to find a long-term home for the company, most likely in Seminole Heights.
The theater’s next production, Bibo and Bertie by Sarah Lawrence, about the final year of Albert Einstein’s life and his relationship with his African gray parrot, Bibo, runs March 1 through March 11. Its 2017-2018 season closes in July with the production of a play by Robertson – So Long Life, which he first wrote while at St. Leo and then completed as his master’s thesis project.
He’s proud that Lab Theater has found a home in the Tampa Bay area’s thriving theater community. “In terms of regional theater, this is one of the most exciting areas to be around in terms of diversity and the work that’s being done,” he said.
In addition to Jobsite and Hat Trick, there are a bevy of other theater companies producing inspiring work, he said – Stageworks Theatre, the Tampa Repertory Theatre, American Stage Theatre Company, freeFall Theatre. “All these companies, they continually strive to improve and to improve the theater scene,” Robertson said. “They find voices and work relevant to our community, relevant to who we are as people in terms of being residents of Tampa. They also find work that just speaks to us as human beings.”
In this mix of talented companies, Lab Theater fills a much-needed niche with its focus on emerging artists. “I really want to find new adult [writers] who want to be involved in theater,” he said.
He hopes his own story and his own meandering road to a theater career inspires other. “One of the biggest things looking at my background and who I am as an artist, it’s a very big deal to me to see people get an opportunity to follow their passion and follow their dream,” he said. “Nothing can stop you if you really want it and if you really want to try, and if you’re willing to try, you can make it happen. I’m proof of that.”

Silhouettes profiles Fred Edmister

Fred Edmister


This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

For Fred Edmister, owner of National Realty Commercial, his passions in life have always been clear – family, faith, community and his real estate business have always been his priorities. Instilled within him from childhood, these values were passed down to him through his family.
On his maternal side, he’s related to “the old Knight family,” he said, who owned numerous properties – residential and commercial – throughout Tampa, including, at one point, the shipyards. “But they lost them when they couldn’t pay taxes on them in the Depression,” Edmister said. “But even then they still had a lot of property.”
His maternal great grandfather relocated to Tampa from Michigan in the late 1800s to work on construction of the Tampa Bay Hotel, a Victorian railroad resort – now on the National Historic Landmark and part of the University of Tampa – that was built by Henry Bradley Plant in the 1880s.
Edmister’s maternal great grandmother also moved to Tampa from Michigan during that time frame. A Seventh Day Adventist, she was compelled to make this move when the prophet gathered his church members and told them “they needed to go spread the word.”
So she boarded a train and headed south. “She landed in Tampa because that’s as far as the railroad went,” Edmister said. She founded the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Marion Street, where a bus depot is located today.
The paternal side of his family, also Seventh Day Adventists and originally from Tennessee, eventually relocated to Tampa, joining the church there.
Because Seventh Day Adventists operate not-for-profit health care centers, much of Edmister’s family has worked in the medical field. “Except me,” he said. “So I took care of all their properties.”
Career wise, he followed in the footsteps of the Knight side of his family and gravitated toward the real estate business.
As a child growing up in Seminole Heights, the family owned a number of rental properties in the area. As soon as he could write, he would grab the receipt book and collect rent from tenants each month. “Then I’d write down all the problems they were having and take the list back to my family,” he said. “Later I learned how to fix all those things.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Hillsborough Community College and St. Petersburg Junior College. It was during this period that he was briefly “sidetracked,” he said. “I did some things that weren’t the best. I was a rascal. I felt bad for my parents.”
But with guidance from his church and his family, he refocused his life on the things that mattered most to him – faith, family and career.
Edmister started his real estate business by purchasing distressed, low-income housing in Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights, which he in turn would fix up and then rent. “You get a great return on investment,” he said. “All you have to do is keep them up. If you take care of them, [your tenants] appreciate it and pay their rent.”
He branched out and eventually began purchasing commercial properties along the way. By purchasing these properties, sometimes he inadvertently became the owner of a variety of businesses along the way.
For instance, when he purchased a building on Tampa Street, the company that called it home, Adams City Hatters, came with it. “Joe Adams wouldn’t sell the building to me unless I bought the business too,” he said. “I kept all the employees. I didn’t change a thing.” At that point, the company had called Tampa home for nearly 80 years.
When he eventually sold the building to Tampa Electric, he had an inventory of 80,000 hats to sell. So rather than shutting down the business, he moved it to Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. “I had to put the hats some place,” Edmister said. “That was when Ybor City still had storefronts that were a good size and reasonable.”
Other assorted businesses he owned over the years included Knight Motors, which was located on Florida Avenue; Larry’s Ice Cream, art galleries, even a poultry shop. “I owned all kinds of businesses,” he said.
There was also a point when he purchased many vacant lots in Ybor City, including a block between 5th and 6th Avenues and 15th and 16th Streets. Fernando Noriega Jr., a Tampa administrator and champion of Ybor City, contacted him and asked if he would sell the property. Edmister wasn’t interested.
Not long after that conversation, Mayor Dick Greco reached out to Edmister, telling him that Noriega planned to build Centro Ybor in the area where he owned property. “They wanted my property and [Greco] said I could either sell it to them or they could take it through eminent domain,” he said.
He decided to sell, but knowing the revitalization planned for Ybor City, he purchased other properties surrounding where Centro Ybor would be located, some he used as parking lots on busy Friday and Saturday evenings. “I’d set my alarm for 2 a.m. and go down there to collect parking payments,” he said. Eventually, so much of his business centered on Ybor City that he moved his office there.
These days, he focuses primarily on commercial real estate deals. “I’m a little picky about my projects,” he said.
As Clearwater officials plan a revitalization of its downtown, Edmister has been involved in several large deals surrounding office towers and a parking garage in the area. Last year, he also brokered the sale of Naviera Coffee’s former Seventh Avenue location. Richard Gonzmart and the Columbia Restaurant Group will move into the space, Edmister said, and the coffee company relocated to a 20,000 square foot warehouse on 56th Street.
Edmister has sold many of the low-income housing he once owned in Ybor City to the families he rented them to for “a deal,” he said.
“It made my life easier,” he said. “What it did for me was I still had income [from the properties] for years, but I didn’t have to pay the taxes or do the upkeep on them.”
He also saw this as his way of helping hard-working people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to become homeowners. He enjoys giving back to the community in other ways, as well. He’s a charter member of the Tampa Breakfast Sertoma Club, active at the Tampa First Seventh-Day Adventist Church and gives back to other organizations whenever he can.
“I like helping people,” he said. “As long as they’re working hard and trying, I’ll help them.”