In private sector, former mayor stays focused on neighborhoods - FOX 13 News

In private sector, former mayor stays focused on neighborhoods

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker starts his next career at the first of the year, when he becomes president of the Edwards Group.

The group is actually a variety of companies owned by local businessman Bill Edwards, including a music production company the management company of the Mahaffey Theater, the re-opening of the former BayWalk as the Shoppes at St. Petersburg, and a private club and hotels on Treasure Island.

And Baker says there is even more to come.

"I think it's too speculative at this point to start identifying potential projects," Baker said, pointing out he first needs to get familiar with the current portfolio. "But I am certain that there will be others in and around our community that [Edwards is] going to want to be involved in."

That includes not only new endeavors downtown, but also in Midtown, an area that encompasses some of the city's more economically challenged neighborhoods.

"Bill and I have had discussions about Midtown and Midtown will be a part of what we'll be looking to continue to work on," Baker confirmed. "He was a partner of mine with the Royal Theater, he was a partner of mine to do the Doorway Scholarships for kids."

Edwards provided $225,000 to equip the Royal Theater, now operated by the Boys and Girls Club, with a recording studio for aspiring musicians. His Edwards Family Foundation also sponsors a Midtown Holiday Gala every year at the Wildwood Center. The day-long party provides food, bicycles and toys to all of the children of 400 families.

Baker was a corporate attorney before becoming mayor, and recalled a negotiating lesson he learned from another successful philanthropist.

"If it's not a good deal for both sides, then it's not going to work, because both sides aren't going to be motivated to make it work," Baker said.

That lesson governed the public-private partnerships Baker forged as mayor.

"Everything we did in Midtown was public-private partnerships. The Sweetbay grocery store project, the credit union bank that we brought in, public-private partnership."

In those deals, Baker was on the public side of the bargaining table. Now he will be on the private sector side of the table.

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