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Longtime Boley Centers CEO, founder of St. Pete’s Jingle Bell Run, retires

Gary MacMath, who’s been with the housing group for more than four decades, steps down this week.
Gary MacMath, 70, from St. Petersburg, is pictured outside of the Boley Centers' Butterfly apartments, 715 Fifth Ave. N, on Jan. 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg. MacMath is retiring after 42 years at the Boley Centers, which provide housing to at-risk individuals, including more than two decades as its CEO.
Gary MacMath, 70, from St. Petersburg, is pictured outside of the Boley Centers' Butterfly apartments, 715 Fifth Ave. N, on Jan. 18, 2022 in St. Petersburg. MacMath is retiring after 42 years at the Boley Centers, which provide housing to at-risk individuals, including more than two decades as its CEO. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 18

Gary MacMath started out with the Boley Centers in 1980 as what he calls a “weekend warrior,” someone who worked part-time with residents in the St. Petersburg at-risk housing agency’s group homes.

“I had another job,” he said of his time outside Boley. “But I wasn’t real good at it.”

With Boley, though, he was a perfect fit.

Forty-two years later — including the last two decades as CEO — MacMath is retiring this week from the Boley Centers. In his career he’s developed and overseen affordable housing for thousands of vulnerable residents, including veterans, the homeless and the mentally disabled.

When he started part-time in 1980, the Boley Centers had 200 residences, all rentals in downtown St. Petersburg. Today it has 1,200 across Pinellas County.

The growth since he became CEO in 2001 is just as consequential. Back then, the Boley Centers had 17 federal state, local and private funding sources; today it has 60. Its budget has risen from $10.5 million to $19.5 million, and its assets have grown in value from $16.6 million to $54 million.

Kevin Marrone, Boley Centers’ chief operating officer and MacMath’s successor as CEO, called him “an institution for the organization” valued for his “knowledge of how to navigate complex funding sources and tie them together in combination with developing relationships with elected officials and neighborhood associations.”

Spending decades placing those residents in such a tightly-packed region, with not-in-my-backyard-ism popping up at every turn, hasn’t been easy. MacMath approached the job like any other developer, working to make Boley Centers more aesthetically pleasing to both residents and surrounding neighborhoods.

“In the ‘70s, things looked more like, for lack of a better word, low-income housing,” Marrone said. “Now if you look at Boley Projects, they blend into neighborhoods and look attractive. People think they’re townhomes and are for purchase. We try to take pride in the way our properties look so that there’s not complaints. I would credit Gary with a lot of that.”

The job has changed over the decades. There’s a greater understanding today of the need for housing for vulnerable communities, MacMath said. But finding space for that housing in has gotten harder.

This month, MacMath is helping wrap construction on the Butterfly Apartments, a renovation project at 715 Fifth Ave. N. It’s the organization’s first redevelopment — an attempt to modernize an existing property, rather than build a new one — but McMath said it likely won’t be the last.

“Finding land in Pinellas County is getting harder and harder,” he said. “We’ve been looking at some of the older properties, and looking at opportunities to upgrade the facilities when we can. Redevelopment is a new process for us, and I think we’ve done it pretty successfully.”

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MacMath’s impact in St. Petersburg goes beyond the Boley Centers. He created the annual Jingle Bell Run, a colorful holiday road race — at one point the second-largest in Pinellas County — that over 39 years has raised nearly $1 million for the Boley Centers. For a while, he was also race director of the hugely popular St. Anthony’s Triathlon.

As a retirement gift, the staff stitched together swatches from T-shirts representing all 39 Jingle Bell Runs. It’s hanging in the Boley Centers’ lobby, and will soon be presented to MacMath.

While stepping away from Boley is “sort of melancholy,” MacMath said, he’s looking forward to helping out however he can with the 40th Jingle Bell Run this December.

“It’s still my baby,” he said.

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