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Former St. Petersburg Mayor Randy Wedding dies at 77

Published Feb. 7, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — More than a decade after he left the St. Petersburg mayor's office in 1975, C. Randolph "Randy" Wedding was still keeping tabs on the growth of his hometown.

From his 12th-floor office on Fourth Street, Mr. Wedding sipped his morning coffee and took in a view marked with structures his architectural firm had designed.

But Mr. Wedding was more concerned with the sidewalks and what he did not see enough of: people. Sometimes he counted them and wondered how such sparse foot traffic could support downtown retailers.

Mr. Wedding, who rode his architectural visions for the city into the mayor's office, died at Palms of Pasadena Hospital on Monday afternoon after a number of health problems. He was 77.

"He was a local legend and he will be missed," said Mayor Bill Foster, who met regularly with Mr. Wedding to discuss city business.

Mr. Wedding served as mayor from 1973 to 1975.

Generally considered an effective and pro-business mayor, he helped create a regional water wholesaler and helped persuade the state to build the Interstate 375 and 175 arteries into downtown.

His time as mayor was only part of a lifelong relationship with St. Petersburg.

His family roots run deep in the community. In 1905, his grandfather established his landscape business in the area known as the Goose Pond. That site, which later became Central Plaza, is where Mr. Wedding later had another major project, a new YMCA.

Born in Mound Park Hospital (now Bayfront Medical Center), Mr. Wedding graduated from the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn. In 1958 and 1959, he served as a first lieutenant in the Army as a general's aide. With a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Florida, he served an apprenticeship with the St. Petersburg firm of Harvard and Jolly. He opened his office in 1960.

Mr. Wedding designed the original Busch Gardens, a project for which his father, Charles Wedding, was the landscape architect, and designed many landmark buildings in St. Petersburg. His legacy includes the Plaza office complex, the Florida Federal Tower, the downtown building of the Tampa Bay Times and a part of All Children's Hospital.

Mr. Wedding also lent his expertise freely to city undertakings, such as his recent chairmanship of the Pier Advisory Task Force.

"Randy was very bright, he was resourceful, he was energetic," said Bob Ulrich, a former St. Petersburg mayor. "To a great degree, he could be described as a visionary."

In 1993 he led a group called VOICE, or Votes of Informed City Electors, that successfully campaigned to create a strong mayor form of government.

Four years later, Mr. Wedding, who saw himself as a "change agent," focused his energies on knocking David Fischer out of the mayor's office and replacing him with political newcomer Bill Klein. Fischer defeated Klein with 53 percent of the vote.

"Although Randy and I didn't always agree on things, he was very generous to the city," Fischer said. "I'm sure he did a lot more that we don't know about, and he will be missed."

A past president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, Mr. Wedding was tapped in 2003 by then-Mayor Rick Baker to form a citizens coalition to study future uses of Albert Whitted Airport. He recommended against a proposal to eliminate a runway for private development.

Developers say downtown's current success can be directly linked to Mr. Wedding.

In 2000 — as downtown struggled — he built the Cloisters, a downtown luxury high-rise on Beach Drive. The Florencia high-rise condominium followed, as did other developments that made downtown a thriving place to live, work, shop and play.

"Now, especially on Beach Drive, (urban living) is carrying on, and to Central Avenue and Fourth Street," said architect Mark Stephenson, Mr. Wedding's partner since the late 1980s.

"I do think it was Randy's vision that jump-started the renaissance of downtown," said Realtor Jack Bowman. "We live in a beautiful city. If Randy has a legacy, it would be that he helped make it that way."

Former Times staff writer Craig Basse and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.