CLEARWATER — By asking voters to elect him into office a fifth time, Hoyt Hamilton knows he’s now considered part of the old-guard.
Born and raised in Clearwater, his family roots stretch back here more than 100 years. Hamilton, 59, spent nearly his entire career operating the Palm Pavilion inn and restaurant his family has owned since 1964, which has become a landmark destination on Clearwater Beach.
He first ran for office in 2001 to bring a fresh perspective and businessman’s eye to local government, he said. Now he’s running on experience for Seat 5 in the March 13 election to assist in what Hamilton calls a crucial period in Clearwater’s evolution.
"I embrace the old-guard title now because the old-guard title to me means I know Clearwater," Hamilton said. "I know the history of Clearwater, and I can bring that to the table, and I can apply that knowledge to my decision-making as I’m making decisions that will affect the next 10 years. I’m not trying to make Clearwater something it’s not, but I’m trying to make it better at what it is while having respect and understanding for where we came from."
Hamilton has so far raised $11,175 with the help of local business and political figures, according to the most recent treasurer’s report. His challenger, real estate broker John Funk, has raised $3,977, and most of that is from is own pockets.
Hamilton was elected to the City Council in 2001 to serve the remaining year of Ed Hooper’s term, who resigned to run for the state House. He was re-elected in 2002 in a contested race and slid into a third term in 2005 facing no challenger.
He resigned his seat in 2006 to move to Atlanta for four years while his two sons were studying at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
After returning to his hometown, Hamilton was elected again in 2014 in a contested race. He said his biggest accomplishments include being part of a council that has focused on "quality of life" projects by building new fire stations, libraries, and parks and recreation projects through Penny for Pinellas funding. He notes Clearwater Beach also boomed into an international destination during his tenure, thanks in part to density incentives for developers and the rollout of the Beach Walk attraction.
But the next four years could be the most important yet, Hamilton said.
The city will be tasked with implementing the $55 million Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan, which Hamilton said could be the key to finally revitalizing the long-struggling downtown.
"This term becomes a very, not singularly focused because we always have to be looking at all issues," Hamilton said. "But we need to be very focused and get that done and make it a real showpiece or an attraction that will make people want to come into downtown on a regular basis."
If re-elected, Hamilton said his priorities would also be elevating the downtown Gateway redevelopment, which includes an $8 million landscaping and road-narrowing overhaul of the 1-mile stretch of Cleveland Street east of Missouri Avenue, bending into Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to the intersection by Crest Lake Park.
While he mentions beach traffic as a key concern, Hamilton said he’d like to continue the focus on providing better parking options, like expediting the building of a new parking garage downtown, and encouraging people to use the water taxi and Jolley Trolley. He said he is not yet sold on alternative modes like elevated transit and doesn’t want Clearwater to serve as a "guinea pig" on untested designs.
"Traffic isn’t a negative in every case," he said. "If there’s a lot of traffic, that means there’s activity. If there’s activity, there’s good business. If there’s good business, it’s healthy. It’s just a matter of we move it the best we can."
Hamilton was a council member who navigated Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s now--rescinded proposal last year offering to recruit high end retail to empty storefronts and pay for a facade overhaul of Cleveland Street if the city moved aside and allowed him to buy a 1.4 acre parcel the city ended up purchasing.
Hamilton said the city must work with Scientology, downtown’s largest property owner, going forward. But he said he was not comfortable allowing Scientology to make decisions for the city without input from officials.
"They are the largest property owner downtown so they are an integral part of what we’re trying to do," he said. "My definition of being a partner is you get together and you develop what you want to happen, then you work together to execute the plan. They came in the old back way and said ‘here’s the plan, here’s what’s going to happen and here’s what you’re going to do.’ That’s not what I define as working together."
Hamilton said his priority in trying to boost Clearwater to a level on par with Tampa or St. Petersburg is to maintain its unique character. He said a major decision impacting the future of the city will come in 2020, when longtime City Manager Bill Horne and City Attorney Pam Akin are expected to retire.
Hamilton said having the right elected officials in office to replace those key decision makers could make or break the next era.
"We’ve got a lot of areas that are ripe for transition," he said. "We’ve got to make sure we allow quality transition to happen that doesn’t jeopardize the environment of the existing neighborhoods."
Times senior staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.