From Inside Business
A decades-long force in Hampton Roads real estate development, who constructed landmarks like the former Pavilion Tower Hotel and pushed for years to build an arena in Virginia Beach, has passed away.
Edward “Eddie” S. Garcia, the founder of ESG Companies and a Virginia Beach electrician, developer and philanthropist, died May 30. He was 93.
Garcia is survived by his wife Sandra, three sons, four daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The youngest of eight siblings, Garcia was born in Norfolk in 1925. His mother came to Norfolk from Boston and his father from La Coruna, Spain.
Garcia and his family struggled during the Great Depression, according to a short biography written by ESG Companies Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Valerie Wilkinson. Garcia dropped out of school after sixth grade to help feed his family. He began to work at a local motor shop, scraping oil off the floor for 20 cents an hour.
ESG President and CEO Andrea Kilmer said history informed Garcia’s business acumen and philanthropy.
“His parents never were landowners,” Kilmer said. “His father used to tell him to save his nickels and dimes for real estate.”
After serving in the Navy and studying to become a master electrician, Garcia bought a truck and started ES Garcia Electric for large union jobs and Volt Electric for smaller ones.
As his electric company grew from one truck to 17, Garcia learned the real estate business from his close friend and fellow developer John Aragona. His deals and development projects literally shaped the Virginia Beach landscape for decades – building thousands of homes in the Sandbridge community and other locations.
Garcia developed buildings like the Princess Anne Plaza Shopping Center, the Ocean Breeze Waterpark and the Pavilion Tower Hotel and Conference Center (now the Doubletree Hotel), among others.
“He had a big impact,” Kilmer said.
She described Garcia as both a visionary before his time and a tenacious businessman. Others tried to think outside the box, but “to Eddie, there was no box,” she said.
That tenacity extended to the unsuccessful proposal to build an 18,000-seat Virginia Beach arena, Kilmer said. Talks between ESG and Virginia Beach began in 2014, and after a lengthy negotiation process and missed deadlines, the city council voted in late 2017 to terminate the building contract.
“’If it was easy, it would have already been done,’” Kilmer said Garcia would say about his projects.
Garcia also wasn’t quiet about his relationships with members of the Mafia. In a Virginian-Pilot article from Aug. 29, 1982, Garcia acknowledged he “met socially” with Carlo Gambino – head of the Gambino crime family and inspiration for the title character of “The Godfather” novels and movies.
He went on to say in that article that in 1975, Garcia even asked friends with Cosa Nostra ties to help remove a threat on his life.
“They are businessmen, as far as I know,” Garcia said in the article.
That same article also details Garcia’s life as a high-flying entrepreneur in the 1980s – riding in a silver Cadillac limousine with the license plate ESG 11; giving his Saudi Arabian business partners an Arabian mare and filly; and taking a phone call by the pool at his 89-acre estate at the intersection of West Neck and Indian River roads.
To Norfolk attorney Pete Decker III, Garcia was simply “Uncle Eddie” – one of the most successful of his father Peter Decker Jr.’s lifelong friends and a powerful force in Hampton Roads philanthropy.
When his father wanted to hold a fundraiser for, say, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Decker III said Garcia was the first person he would call.
“Pop would give him a figure, and Eddie would double or triple it,” Decker said.
Kilmer said Garcia was instrumental in helping to get Virginia Beach’s Operation Smile going in the early years, as well as Seton Youth Shelters. He also helped fund and construct the Tidewater Veteran’s Memorial in Virginia Beach.
“I learned a lot from him,” Decker said. “I just loved being around him.”
From Inside Business
By Trevor Metcalfe
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