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Clearwater eyes hiring new downtown director within two months

By Tracey McManus
Clearwater Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell will oversee downtown until the city hires a replacement for Seth Taylor.

CLEARWATER ó Now that the city director tasked with revitalizing downtown has resigned after his arrest on a battery charge during Oktoberfest, City Manager Bill Horne said the goal is to not leave the position vacant long.

Horne said the city was preparing to advertise the Community Redevelopment Agency director position this week to have a replacement within 60 days.

The Oct. 11 departure of former CRA director Seth Taylor comes at a delicate time, as several initiatives he launched to recruit businesses to vacant storefronts downtown remain incomplete. With Taylorís hiring in July 2016, the position was prioritized to a standalone role, since CRA responsibilities used to fall to former Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin before his retirement in December 2015.

In the more aggressive focus on retail and restaurant recruitment, Taylor launched an incentive program in June that offers businesses $250,000 grants if they located downtown for at least five years. However no business has submitted a formal application in the first four months of the program, Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell confirmed.

On Monday the City Council, acting as the CRA board, voted to buy a vacant lot at the corner of Pierce Street and S Washington Avenue for $250,000 with the intention of combining it with the city-owned parcel next door and drawing a business to the property.

Taylor told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month, before his resignation, the city was in preliminary discussions with Inoculum Ale Works to open a brewery at the site. Inoculum head brewer Nick Moench could not immediately be reached for comment.

Maxwell, who is expected to be recommended later this month as interim CRA director, said no other staff member has talked to Inoculum yet. And the CRA board bought the property Monday without discussing what type of business could be recruited for the property.

But Maxwell said that project and the central mission of downtown revitalization will be continued until a new director is named.

"It does have an impact, but itís not an impact that is crippling by any stretch of the imagination," Maxwell said of Taylorís abrupt departure. "Weíre going to focus in and identify what our priorities are during this time. It may slow us down in the short term a little bit, but weíll keep rolling."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.