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George Gage, 87, helped transform city

TAMPA - George Halsey Gage began his career with telecommunications giant GTE by digging holes for telephone poles in California. Thirty-seven years later, in 1984, he retired — as president of the company's Florida branch headquartered in Tampa. He grew to love the city he worked in, family members said, and that commitment helped shape Tampa's skyline and identity. "He took his energy, his skill and his passion and brought it here," said his daughter, Joan Gage. "Any opportunity to make the community better, he jumped into it."
George Gage died Tuesday in his South Tampa home. He was 87. Gage, along with four other local businessmen, is credited with transforming Tampa's sleepy downtown core in the 1970s into a thriving commercial center. The revitalization occurred because Gage wanted to keep the GTE offices downtown, his daughter said. "He just had this vision that the right thing to do was to stay here," said Joan Gage, 59. The decision led to the development in 1983 of what is known as the Quad Block, a four-block area of downtown anchored by the Tampa City Center and the Hyatt Regency. "He was involved in everything," former Mayor Dick Greco said. "People like him are what helped built this city. That opened the floodgates for development." Joan Gage said her father ranked the city center as one of his biggest accomplishments. "He would not take sole credit for it, but it was something he took great pride in," she said. "I look at downtown Tampa now and it's a pretty little downtown. And it wouldn't be that way without my father and the other guys' handshake agreement." Gage was born in Portland, Ore., in 1925 and served with the U.S. Naval Air Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. He was hired by GTE in 1947, digging holes along California roadways for telephone poles. Gage then held several positions in the company's various engineering departments and became a GTE spokesman in 1957. Five years later, he was promoted to vice president of marketing and sales in New York. He moved to Tampa in 1970, when he became the president of GTE Florida. Gage was involved in major turning points of the city's development. He played a role in bringing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to town and steered the initial growth spurt of the Tampa International Airport. He also was chairman of the Gulf Ridge Council of the Boy Scouts and was involved in the founding of the University of South Florida's Eye Institute. Although he led a busy professional life, Gage always put his family first, his daughter said. "Although he was the president of a company, I could call him and he always took my call," Joan Gage said. Employees considered Gage a class act, a respectful gentleman who demanded the best from his staff, said Bob Elek, spokesman for Verizon Communications. GTE merged with Bell Atlantic in 2000 and became Verizon. Joan Gage said although her father worked for a technology company — she recalls seeing an early prototype of a fax machine — George Gage loved the outdoors and being active. "He loved the natural world," she said. "His view of life was so positive." The family has scheduled a memorial service at 11 a.m. Oct. 13, at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, 3501 W. San Jose St., Tampa.

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