ST. PETERSBURG — After guiding some of the city's biggest projects for more than three decades, longtime senior administrator Rick Mussett is leaving City Hall.
Mussett — the city's main contact with the Tampa Bay Rays — will retire March 31. He helped bring baseball to Tropicana Field and laid the foundation that transformed downtown from heaven's waiting room to a trendy, urban destination.
Mussett, 65, joined the city in May 1980.
"It's time for me to do something else in my own life right now," said Mussett, noting he is not being forced out or moving away. "Now I need to spend time with my family."
Mayor Rick Kriseman said he plans to tap Mussett's "invaluable institutional knowledge" in the future.
"We applaud Rick for his contributions to our city and our community, and we wish him well as he pursues a new chapter in life's journey with his family," Kriseman said in a statement.
Mussett leads economic development and the city real estate deals. While earning about $144,000 a year, he oversees valuable assets, including: Albert Whitted Airport, the Coliseum, Tropicana Field, the marina and port and Sunken Gardens.
Rays president Matt Silverman called it a privilege to work with Mussett.
"He brought an extraordinary commitment to St. Petersburg and its vitality and always conducted himself with great candor and upstanding character," Silverman said. "We will miss his presence at City Hall, and we hope to see him even more often at Tropicana Field."
Mussett said his most-gratifying accomplishments include revitalizing downtown, landing professional baseball and helping landowners annex into the city from northern borders.
"It's always been a team effort," Mussett said, lauding past city mangers, mayors and council members. "No one person can do this."
Ethics and institutional knowledge stood out when real estate developer Darryl LeClair sat across the table from Mussett.
"He's a high-integrity guy," LeClair said. "He represented the city honestly. He did what was right for residents. This city is in for a rude awakening (when he leaves)."
More departures like his could cause headaches for the new mayor. Most senior staffers in City Hall have served for decades and are eligible to retire.
With aging leaders, St. Petersburg must plan for the day managers leave with intimate knowledge of decades-old projects and insider information needed to keep the city running. They oversee the city's most vital operations like water, sewers, police and fire.
Their parting also will prove costly.
In late 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the 22 most-senior managers were owed nearly $1 million in vacation and sick hours had they retired then. The payouts increase the longer they stay on the job. Mussett will depart with nearly $53,000 from unused vacation and sick time.