Mark T. Mahaffey/ Photo courtesy of the Mahaffey Company
By Julie Garisto, AliveTampaBay Correspondent
Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts is a nonprofit organization that bridges merchants, entrepreneurs and corporations with artists and arts institutions to build thriving communities. Each year, the organization’s Impact Awards honor men and women who have gone above and beyond to support local arts and culture. Honorees will be commemorated in four categories: the Patron of Culture & the Arts Impact Award, Business Impact Award, Individual Impact Award and International Artistic Achievement Award. This year’s Impact Awards will be given out at a dinner on Thursday, Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m. Visit tbbca.org for details.
A St. Petersburg businessman with a familiar name, Mark T. Mahaffey, has been awarded TBBCA’s Patron of Culture & the Arts Impact Award.
Mahaffey is the Chairman of the Board at The Mahaffey Company, a family business that develops, builds, owns, and manages rental apartment communities in central and west-central Florida.
Throughout his career, Mahaffey has created livable, affordable housing through The Mahaffey Properties with a focus on spacious comfort and natural beauty. The rentals have a high level of occupancy that exceeds national averages with a turnover rate below the national average.
Outside work, the civic-minded Mahaffey is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, a Director at Sabal Trust Company and Sabal Investment Management Company and a Board Trustee of Elon University. His service on other boards includes All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg Environmental Commission, St. Petersburg Festival of States, Mahaffey Theater Foundation and St. Leo University.
And, yes, St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater at the Progress Energy Center for the Arts is named for his family; in the 1980s, Mark and his wife, Marianne Mahaffey, and his parents, Tom and Jane Mahaffey, donated $1 million toward the renovation of the facility formerly known as the Bayfront Center.
Elon University recently bestowed the Indianapolis native and Notre Dame graduate with an honorary doctorate, and Mahaffey served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.
AliveTampaBay caught up with Mahaffey to ask him five questions about helping multiple generations find affordable homes, his ongoing involvement with local arts and what a local tour-guide itinerary would look like.
AliveTampaBay: TBBCA is recognizing your support of the arts. Do you have a set of criteria to help you choose which artists or organizations earn your support? What inspires you to nurture arts and culture in St. Petersburg?
Mark Mahaffey: I really do not have a set criteria for support for the arts. It sometimes depends on the worthiness of the venue, event, object, artist, or the person asking.
Over the years, I have seen how arts and culture can make a difference in our community, especially with our young people. In the past, I have supported each one of these facets with the goal of making our community a better place to live. Hopefully, I have accomplished these goals over these many years.
ATB: We don’t often hear about real estate investors motivated to help others afford housing. Your story is unique in that regard. Could you describe for us a time you were given feedback from individuals, families or groups that benefited from your real estate investments?
MM: From the beginning of my career, I was taught by my father, who founded our company, that our target market for our apartment rentals was well designed units in communities that we developed and managed with discipline in both of these areas. We certainly created developments that were economically sound and were profitable, but we wanted to make them affordable. Our goal has been and always will be to have 100 percent occupancy with very low turnover. In other words, keep the rents reasonable and maintain our communities with high standards. That formula has seemed to work over these many years. Our best source of advertising is our residents, past and present, who refer our communities to others. It is always a pleasure and gratifying to hear from past residents of their fond memorable experiences of living in one of our communities, especially when they call me to see if I can get their child, and nowadays their grandchild, an apartment. The grandchild request reminds me that I have been in this game a long time.
ATB: Could you talk about your experience working with family members in The Mahaffey Company? What advice would you give others going into business with siblings, parents and relatives?
MM: I have been in my family business close to 50 years and I have experienced many situations, some good and some not so good. My advice is fairly simple. Make sure that you communicate from the start your expectations from family members that work for the company. They should expect to work hard, be low key at first and do not throw their weight around. A family member is expected to set an example. Sometimes these rules of the road are difficult to maintain and relationships occasionally do not work.
ATB: Now that downtown St. Petersburg is on the upswing and a major theater — “the jewel” of the St. Petersburg waterfront, right next to the famed Dali Museum — bears your surname, are you considering or already taking a major role in developing any future projects?
MM: I am currently involved with the possible expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts. Our Board of Trustees has been diligently studying and planning some new exciting ideas in this regard. I am certainly open to consider helping in some new interesting and worthwhile projects. I believe that our communities are constantly evolving.
ATB: Hypothetical scenario: You have just found out that relatives will be in town from out of state for one day only. Where in the Tampa Bay area do you take them?
MM: Since I have experienced the real scenario, this is the day that normally happens: I show them around our downtown area by car highlighted by our parks, North Shore, Vinoy and Straub parks. I then park the car and have them stroll the shops at the Sundial. Then I walk them down to Beach Drive to have lunch at one of the fine restaurants. After lunch, I would take them to the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive to spend as much time that they would like. Afterwards, we would get back in the car and drive to the Mahaffey Theater/Dali Museum area where I would show them the exterior and interior of the Mahaffey Theater followed by a tour of the Dali Museum exhibits. If the guests are still energetic, I would then take them for cocktails and dinner at the Vinoy Hotel. And then back to the Mahaffey Theater for a show or concert if one is showing. By that time the guests should be exhausted but filled with memories of a day well spent in St. Petersburg.
The interview has been condensed and edited for brevity, clarity, and style.
Julie Garisto is a Correspondent for AliveTampaBay.