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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.”

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