Peter Kageyama may not be seated across the table from the next tech company that's thinking about relocating here, but city leaders think his philosophy of making downtown a more vibrant, lovable place is key to sustaining St. Petersburg's economic life.
The writer, entrepreneur and development consultant encourages people to see their relationships with their cities as being like their love for a spouse: committed, emotional and not entirely rational.
Kageyama, who lives downtown, has traveled the country and world, inspiring communities to implement small ideas that make them special — such as a movie night in the park, logos for a "shop local" campaign or a farmers market.
He tells city governments to focus on more than just patching potholes and fixing water lines; funding public art, sprucing up barren medians, offering microgrants to artists are integral to fostering the love people have for where they live, he argues.
"I can't tell you why or how the free hugs, the Swings Tampa Bay, the little street festivals, the people walking their dogs, how that manifests directly into more jobs, but I know it does because emotions are contagious," he said.
"We'd like to think that things like economic development are a science, and certainly there are well-accepted practices and things like that, but the fact is human beings are involved and, therefore, there are emotions. There are these irrational factors that go into it."
All this might sound a little soft and intangible, but Kageyama's ideas are finding traction here and elsewhere.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster often quotes him at meetings and recently asked him to serve as a volunteer adviser to the city.
Chris Steinocher, the president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, invited Kageyama to speak at the organization's annual meeting last year and passed out copies of his book "For the Love of Cities" to everyone.
"The economic impact of the things he recognizes and motivates are priceless," Steinocher said. "You can't put a number on them because they're not traditional."
Kageyama was born in Akron, Ohio, and fell in love with St. Petersburg while attending a friend's wedding in the area when he was undergraduate at Ohio State University. He eventually moved to the city in the early '90s to finish a law degree as a visiting student at Stetson University.
After two years of practicing law, Kageyama hung up his suit and went into business with his college roommate, Ken Walker, in a Web development start-up in 1995.
That business connected him with members of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Tampa Bay Partnership. While building a website for the partnership, Kageyama met Steinocher.
Kageyama traces the seeds of his philosophy to Richard Florida's well-known book "The Rise of the Creative Class" and British author Charles Landry, both advocates of bottom-up economic growth driven by creative individuals rather than official organizations.
He helped bring Landry to St. Petersburg in 2004 as part of a Creative Cities Summit he produced with Michelle Bauer, then-director of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. The following year, Kageyama became president of Creative Tampa Bay, which hosts events and conducts research about the connection between creativity, economic development and quality of life.
The goal was to make the area a cool, attractive place to work and play for baby boomers and young professionals, said Bauer, who heads the Common Language public relations firm.
"This was almost a decadelong process from the initial seed of that idea to how it kind of circulates in the mentality of places like the city government," she said. "Now everybody is like 'Oh yes. We get it.'"
In recent years, Kageyama has become an itinerate speaker on urban creativity, holding workshops as far away as Singapore and Australia, and in economically depressed cities such as Detroit.
His message of falling in love with your city resonated in Muskegon County, Mich., a community of 75,000 people on the banks of Lake Michigan. The county's community foundation has invited him as its keynote speaker at its past two annual gatherings.
The community developed a low self-image because of high unemployment tied to the slumping auto industry, said the foundation's donor services director, Heidi Sytsema.
Kageyama encouraged the foundation to offer $500 grants for people in the community to create "love notes," little things that make a place unique.
One love note was a lakeside movie night a local woman organized during the summer.
Another was a "Love Muskegon" logo that has shown up on T-shirts, store windows and car bumpers to encourage people to shop at local businesses and stay involved in the community.
"If you want to live in a lovable place, you have to love it and make it that way," Sytsema said. "So his message really resonated with a lot of people."
Kageyama would like to see a local organization offer similar $500 grants for artists and creative entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg.
He also would like the city government to set up a one-stop shop for people needing permits and help organizing small festivals and events.
But the city already has an abundance of love notes, Kageyama said, including the Saturday Morning Market, locally roasted Kahwa Coffee or The Studio@620.
A city can't manufacture these unique offerings, but Kageyama encourages local government leaders to sometimes make decisions that might not seem to be the most fiscally practical.
"I try to give them some ammunition and a way to talk about that, so that they can justify why maybe we're not going to fix all those potholes," Kageyama said.
"Instead, maybe we're going to work on some streetscape, we're going to build a dog park, we're going to build a playground."
The "crazy things" Kageyama advocates have a ripple effect on the economy by creating an atmosphere downtown that has, for example, attracted tech companies here, Steinocher said.
"They may have never relocated here if that vibe wasn't here," he said.
In the fall of 2011, Chuck Egerter moved his IT company, Eagle Datagistics, from U.S. 19 in Clearwater to 111 Second Ave. N.E. downtown, in the same plaza as several trendy bars and restaurants.
"I get off the elevator, and I'm like 'What's going on in the courtyard?'" he said. "In Clearwater, that never happens."
Within a month of moving, Egerter met Steinocher and later got to know the mayor.
Now he and his 12 full-time employees enjoy working in a vibrant downtown where it's easy to grab dinner or drinks with friends or colleagues.
"When you can blend the lines between what you have to do and what you want to do, it just makes your overall quality of life better," Egerter said.