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General News

John Catsimatidis – The Renaissance Man of the Greek-American Community

NEW YORK – Everyone on the 50 Wealthiest List would probably be characterized by friends/colleagues/family as “one of the busiest people I know” – John Catsimatidis not least among them. Almost everyone also made his or her name and fortune by focusing on one area of endeavor – Catsimatidis is one of those who thrives wherever he finds a door open to his energy and imagination – from supermarkets to real estate to energy to media.

Vision? Over and over he has seen what others do not: Turning neighborhood stores into a supermarket empire, always on the lookout for energy opportunities and breakthroughs, rolling the dice on luxury high rises in Coney Island everyone now wants to get into, and shrewd real estate ventures all over New York and now in Florida.

The National Herald congratulated him on his latest project, a 10-story mixed use building on 24th Street in Manhattan. “That’s a small building compared to St. Pete’s,” he said.  He is referring to the condominium and office tower in St. Petersburg that at 46 stories is the tallest building on the Gulf Coast.

John Catsimatidis with his son, John Jr. (Photo: facebook/@John Catsimatidis)

“And by the way, there are a lot of Greeks down there – Tarpons Springs, Clearwater, Tampa – and all the sponge guys from Symi” – one of the islands in the famed Dodecanese island chain that includes his beloved Nisyros, where he was born.

He stressed, however, that “the industry that we do best in is our energy business. Now we are moving to the next part of the story…. It’s very exciting.” He explained that regarding new and sustainable sources of energy right now, “it’s about windmills and solar energy, but you’re not going to do much with them. The truth is, if you think you are going to run the country on solar energy and windmills, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.”

Catsimatidis’ journey demonstrates that visionaries build on foundations of realism – to see clearly where the world is going, they must grasp ‘where it’s at’ now. With his more realistic timeframe for the world’s energy transitions, he continues to develop his current holdings. “We expanded our refinery business by building a new pipeline in Canada,” he said. “We needed a presidential permit, and the good news is we got it signed off by President Trump before President Biden” changed government policy. “We would have waited a long time” under Biden, but now “it’s already running.”

Andrea Catsimatidis with her parents John and Margo. (Photo by TNH/Kostas Bej, file)
Margo and John Catsimatidis with daughter Andrea. (Photo: TNH File/ Kostas Bej)

Catsimatidis has been a builder metaphorically, with his companies – now he is putting up actual buildings. His interest in construction blossomed over the last 10 years but had earlier roots. “I used to look at beautiful buildings in cities and states… The most beautiful buildings were built by former Governor Spitzer’s father” – like the iconic curved corner building at 200 Central Park South and 59th Street built in 1963. “That is what I call a ‘wow building’ – you look at it and say ‘wow! I want to live there… I have been specializing in building ‘wow’ buildings.”

In Coney Island, he has built two – “and we are allowed to build three more, but it would cost a billion dollars, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I want to spend a billion dollars in New York until we find out who New York belongs to – common sense people – or the socialists that won’t let police departments do their jobs.” He emphasized that “when I say ‘common sense people’ I don’t care if they are Democrats or Republicans, as long as they have common sense… I try to work with everybody,” and noting that he himself was a Democrat. He was major fundraiser for Bill Clinton.

“I’ll spend $100 million,” as he is now doing in Manhattan, “but to spend a billion, I have to think about it.”

Excavation work is underway for John Catsimatidis’ new ten-story mixed-use building at 8th Avenue and West 24th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. (Photo: Red Apple Group)

He makes it clear he is still bullish on America. “It’s the last place that will survive. If anything happens to America, the rest of the world [becomes crap]. I would say 95% of America is a great place – New York, Illinois, California, and Massachusetts where they have oddball laws are questionable. I would invest in Florida and Texas where we have common sense people running those states.”

Returning to the energy field, he said, “the next thing after fossil fuels is SMRs – Small Modular Reactors, but it’s going to take five to 20 years to make a big impact. They are the small nuclear reactors that are used in nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers. They are transitioning them to be used for small cities and industrial complexes.” His endeavors are centered on United Nuclear, a subsidiary of his oil company.

Asked if Artificial Intelligence has begun to figure in his businesses, Catsimatidis took a step back from the hype. He believes “there’s no such thing as artificial intelligence – it’s only as good as the algorithms and the programmers who make them.”

Ocean Drive in Coney Island. Photo: Red Apple Group

Regarding his current business interests, he said, “we are also doing some things for fun – we are in the media business for fun. WABC has become the most powerful radio station in the United States and our next step is to go worldwide – like the BBC.”

To illustrate the power and potential of his media vision, Catsimatidis said, “look, when you and I were growing up, we had a transistor radio that had three transistors – now, our iPhones have 15 billion transistors. Through our iPhone apps, you can get our radio station in 173 countries.”

Family is as important as business for Catsimatidis, and his pride extends to his children. They are following in his footsteps, wearing some of his many shoes, John Jr. in business and Andrea in politics. Last year, John Jr. was entrusted with the leadership of the $7 billion Red Apple Group at the age of 30, and Andrea has been the chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party since 2017. “I raised her as a Democrat and she is now a Republican,” he said.

The Residences at 400 Central is presently under construction in downtown St. Petersburg. Artist rendering. (Photo: Red Apple Group)

Asked if he and his wife Margo are trying to enjoy life a little more, Catsimatidis said, “that’s why I made my son president, so I can take an extra day off a week.” He is not focused on world travel, however. “You know what I tell people? – I say it because it’s true – every time I go to Greece, and I get into the taxi and on the way to the hotel and listening to Greek music at night, I get tears in my eyes. I’d love to visit Greece more so I can spend more time there.” His generation of Greek-Americans were conditioned to fly into Athens, stay with relatives for a day, and then scoot to the ‘horio’ or the ‘nisi’ – but now they stay a few days to enjoy Athens’ ancient glory as well as its modern buzz. “I like the islands – I’ll spend three, maybe two days in Athens.”

He will be there soon. The Greek-American community and the Orthodox Church are also important to him. In May, he will be attending the international Archons Conference ‘Protecting Religious Freedom, Democracy & Human Rights’ in Greece in May 2024.

Speaking of doing business there, he said: “I always wanted to do something in Greece,” but there were always problems. He made a mental note, however, when told Greece has been making progress, attracting major foreign direct investment under Prime Minister Mitsotakis.

The Residences at 400 Central in downtown St. Petersburg, artist rendering. (Photo: Red Apple Group)
Left to right: John Catsimatidis Jr., John Catsimatidis Sr., and Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica review plans for the Residences 400 Central tower in St. Petersburg. (Photo: Red Apple Group)

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