Clearwater down to two finalists for CRA director

Published December 15 2017

CLEARWATER — The next Community Redevelopment Agency director who will be tasked with trying to revive the long-struggling downtown has come down to two women, narrowed from a pool of 40 applicants.

Emily A. Colon, 31, a Pasco County budget analyst and program administrator, and Amanda Thompson, 39, an arts grant officer for the Knight Foundation in Miami, interviewed with city officials this week. Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell said the City Council is scheduled to vote on his staff’s top choice on Thursday.

The new hire will be stepping into a burgeoning chapter in Tampa Bay’s third largest city, as the government rolls out its $55 million waterfront redevelopment plan Imagine Clearwater and hopes to amp up efforts to recruit retail and restaurants to the downtown core.

City Manager Bill Horne said he is looking for someone who is creative, ethical and able to inspire the business community to invest in downtown with realistic proposals.

Former CRA director Seth Taylor, in the position 15 months before resigning in October following an arrest for simple battery, developed an aggressive incentive program that offered businesses $250,000 start-up grants.

When the City Council approved the program in June, Taylor said the new Clear Sky on Cleveland restaurant would be receiving incentive funding retroactively since renovations in the building were nearly completed. Horne said that promise for after-the-fact funding turned out not to be legally feasible — and no new business has so far been granted funding.

"Some businesses may have felt we created expectations that we couldn’t follow through with," Horne said.

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But Maxwell said he believes the two current finalists bring a blend of government experience and the creative arts to help boost downtown.

Colon did not respond to a request for comment and Thompson declined an interview request.

According to her application, Colon has spent nearly four years with Pasco County government, first as a budget analyst and budget manager, and now a program administrator under the assistant county administrator.

Before earning a master’s degree in public administration at University of South Florida in 2014, Colon commuted to Tallahassee to serve as a gubernatorial fellow in the office of Gov. Rick Scott. There she researched policies for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, coordinated grants and conducted listening meetings throughout the state, according to her resume.

Colon also served as a constituents services intern for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2013.

Thompson has been with the Knight Foundation for two years, developing national and local strategy for arts ecosystems, managing $2 million in grants across eight cities and designing a national initiative for dance, according to her resume.

She spent eight years as the planning director for Decatur, Ga., where she facilitated $150 million of mixed use development projects in the downtown core. In that role she also oversaw zoning changes and research into alternative transportation.

Thompson has a background in dance and worked as a choreographer for Zoetic Dance Ensemble in Atlanta for 13 years during her career with the Decatur government.

"These are very straight up individuals," Maxwell said. "There’s a level of authenticity they provide. We got a good sense of who they were, and going along with that, both of them expressed a high level of ethics and a level of creativity the downtown needs."

Senior staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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