ST. PETERSBURG - John W. Barger Sr., one of Pinellas County's top industrial developers, died Wednesday (Jan. 14, 2004) at his home. He was 79.
Over the years, he owned, built and developed more than 1-million square feet of commercial office warehouse structures in the county, his family said.
As the head of Barger Builders-Developers, a firm once called the "high priest of the plain, unadorned box," he also became the area's top seller and leaser of warehouse and industrial space.
Few rival developers argued with the standard Barger formula: the most building for the least amount of money.
In the late 1980s, the company departed from its traditional plain vanilla structures after buying several parcels along Fourth Street N. One project that polished the Barger image was the Mercantile Center, an office and retail complex built on the northwest corner of Fourth Street and 22nd Avenue N.
Largely unknown outside the development industry, Mr. Barger's firm, led by him and his two sons, was behind such high profile projects as Home Shopping Network's 230,000-square-foot headquarters and the Skyway Business Center, a 225,000-square-foot complex at 31st Street and 22nd Avenue S that replaced the Times Square Shopping Center, a neighborhood eyesore for 14 years.
Born in Gary, Ind., Mr. Barger moved to St. Petersburg from the Midwest in 1951.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he built dozens of small apartment buildings along the beaches before attempting one of his biggest projects, the Edgewater Beach Motel.
For more than two decades the motel stood next to the Vinoy Park Hotel and served as spring-training home to the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.
The motel also was host to high school bands arriving for the annual Festival of States celebration and performers at Bayfront Center.
For a time, Mr. Barger and his family lived there and his sons worked in the motel's coffee shop while serving their apprenticeships in the real estate business.
Mr. Barger sold the motel in 1972. It later was bought by the city of St. Petersburg and demolished in 1986.
Meanwhile, Mr. Barger was building small industrial parks in undeveloped sections of St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park. And he began to pioneer large-scale, coordinated industrial and office development in the Gateway area.
Mr. Barger and his wife, C. Eleanore "Ellie" Barger, contributed to many St. Petersburg charities. He supported the Northeast Little League, Freedom Park in Pinellas Park, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center.
His family in 1988 made the largest private donation in a gift of $250,000 from four companies to build and equip the aquarium at The Pier.
He had been on the board of directors of Union Trust Bank and the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. He was a former member of the Committee of 100 and for many years helped to sponsor the Governor's Baseball Dinner, Florida's salute to professional baseball. He was a Marine Corps veteran of World War II and received two Purple Hearts.
His wife of 49 years died in 1997. Survivors include two daughters, Beatrice Cameron, St. Petersburg, and Dr. Marilyn Barger, Temple Terrace; two sons, John Wm. Jr., and Michael E., both of St. Petersburg; three sisters, Mary Wantland, St. Petersburg, Rita Wellman, Ruskin, and JoAnn Schoon, Portage, Ind.; and four grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Raphael's Catholic Church, 1376 Snell Isle Blvd. NE. John S. Rhodes, East Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.
The family suggests memorial contributions to the church or Hospice Foundation of the Florida Suncoast, 300 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33770.
- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.