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Downtown leader 'phasing out' role

Downtown Partnership's Martin Normile plans to leave his executive post toward the end of the year.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The idea might have taken root during an Outward Bound expedition last year.

Martin J. Normile, one of downtown St. Petersburg's more dedicated boosters for more than 16 years, traded office togs and phone calls for a few days of white-water paddling and mountain climbing.

He climbed to the pinnacle of Mount Massive, at 14,421 feet Colorado's second-highest peak.

Billed as a "career renewal" adventure, the expedition got Normile thinking about change -- and the change was noted officially last week at a Downtown Partnership meeting.

Normile, known simply as "Marty" to most of his associates, will leave his job as executive vice president of the downtown development organization toward the end of this year.

Normile, 59, prefers to describe his departure as "phasing out" his employment.

"I'm not really using the word retirement, and I'm not going anywhere," Normile said.

Likewise, he said, the Downtown Partnership will continue its presence. Part of his job this year will be to help determine the organization's future direction.

"It has continuing obligations. It's got a job to do," Normile said of the partnership, which under various designations and leadership has been a part of downtown redevelopment efforts since the 1960s, when it was known as St. Petersburg Progress.

Through the years, its incarnations and spinoffs included the Downtown Improvement Corp., the Community Development and Reinvestment Corp. and the Transportation Management Initiative, a program to coordinate local transportation.

Though the organization's mission sometimes has been vaguely defined, it always has played a role in marketing downtown, advocating it as a desirable place to live and helping grease the way for deals.

It is funded by its members, which include about 75 downtown enterprises.

A newspaper article four years ago described Normile as "the unofficial keeper of downtown."

"I'm glad he touched my life, but I'm also glad he touched the campus," said William Heller, dean of the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. "We're a whole lot better because of Marty Normile."

Normile has zealously promoted the campus, and has seen it and the rest of the Bayboro district grow with new facilities at the college and the adjacent marine science center, an expanded United States Geological Survey operation and a burgeoning medical district nearby.

"A lot of the things Marty and the Downtown Partnership worked so hard to have happen are beginning to happen, (such as) BayWalk and the Bayboro growth. They have to find a way to help sustain that growth that's already been created," Heller said.

Randy Wedding, a former mayor and current vice chairman of the Downtown Partnership's board, said last week the partnership would remain.

"I think Marty's decision that he wants to do something else for a change has caused the partnership to take a look at its various roles in the community, and what that vehicle should be. It's still a work in progress. We've been talking about that for the last three or four meetings, and will continue to (talk) through spring," Wedding said.

Through the years, the downtown power structure has evolved. When Normile came here from Binghamton, N.Y., in 1983, bank executives, some of them old-guard St. Petersburg movers and shakers, held the reins.

Carolina Power & Light, which agreed to purchase Florida Progress Corp. last year, will become a new player in town.

"Corporate transition is occurring everywhere," Normile said. "Does it have anything to do with what I'm doing? No."

Normile arrived in St. Petersburg just as its downtown was poised to embark on its biggest era of change since the boom of the 1920s. Baseball, Bayboro development and the restoration of the Vinoy rank as huge new elements. Condominiums on Beach Drive and on Fifth Avenue NE, the Florida International Museum, new after-hours vitality on main streets and the rising BayWalk entertainment complex continue to change the face of downtown.

Besides his role in USF and Bayboro development, Normile's favorite ventures include helping land the Women's Tennis Association headquarters, and making sure the former federal building on First Avenue S remained occupied after Veterans Administration employees moved.

"I think he's been pretty effective," Wedding said. "Anybody with that job sometimes gets to thinking they're more or less just part of the furniture. Nobody pays a lot of attention, but he's been thoughtful in what he's done and effective in his efforts."

Normile said he'll continue to play a role in downtown development. He isn't sure what it will be, though one idea he relishes is being involved in housing.

St. Petersburg has gotten under his skin.

"I really have an emotional investment in this place," said the Old Northeast resident. "I'm not slowing down. I'm not retiring. I'm going to keep doing the same thing, but from a different angle."

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