Clearwater adds real estate savvy to its economic development team

The City of Clearwater's Economic Development Division and 83 Degrees Media have an underwriting agreement in place to spotlight the city's economic development programs and initiatives. This is the second in a series of four stories.
To use a sports analogy, the City of Clearwater’s economic development team has adjusted its game plan to meet the conditions on the field. 

Their goal remains to attract and retain companies in target industries like finance, insurance, IT, manufacturing and health care. But in a largely built-out city and county, attracting new firms and developing new office space will likely require finding and redeveloping the right site. With that in mind, the city has brought onboard real estate industry experience and expertise to achieve its economic development goals. 

“The premise behind most of our economic development efforts remains the same,” Economic Development and Housing Director Denise Sanderson says. “What has shifted for us is bringing in-house a level of expertise in real estate development and identifying and engaging property owners in the marketing and development of their properties. We hope to be able to encourage land assemblage among property owners and perhaps get involved in some of these land deals in order to have some influence in what ultimately gets developed there that supports our economic development goals and objectives.”

First, Senior Economic Development Coordinator for Business Recruitment & Property Development Phil Kirkpatrick, a former commercial real estate development manager, joined the city in February 2020. Then, in January of 2023, Senior Real Estate Coordinator Dylan Mayeux came on board, bringing a real estate license, a mortgage origination license and years of experience.

Sanderson says Kirkpatrick and Mayeux bring valuable industry experience to conversations with companies, developers and site selectors about the city’s development review process and the challenges and costs associated with redeveloping a developed property, including building demolition, relocating pipes and utilities, and, in some cases, land cleanup.

Clearwater Economic Development and Housing Director Denise Sanderson“What we found in our engagement of real estate brokers, developers and site selectors is we really needed to be able to have a different conversation with them,” Sanderson says. “Rather than talking about how great our community is, which is really the marketing approach you tend to initiate, we wanted to have a conversation about how to develop in Clearwater and why it’s a great investment to make. It’s more of an intentional focus on real estate and real estate development that has helped us to make this turn. The way in which we are able to communicate with interested parties is elevated quite frankly because of the in-house expertise we have with Dylan and Phil. We can get into the nuts and bolts of meeting a business’ needs.”

Focus on real estate redevelopment

As part of this focus on real estate redevelopment opportunities, the economic development team is in the process of establishing a Property Redevelopment Opportunity Partnership Program that will identify properties ripe for redevelopment and engage property owners in making those properties available for redevelopment.

Earlier this year, the economic development team launched a website intended to spark interest in the mixed-use and office redevelopment potential of properties in prime locations along the U.S. 19 corridor. 

The webpage uses digital illustrations and a 3D animation video to show the mixed-use redevelopment possibilities for four large commercial properties at major intersections: the northeast corner of Gulf to Bay Boulevard and U.S. 19; the southeast corner of Drew Street and U.S. 19; the northwest corner of Drew Street and U.S. 19; and the northeast corner of Countryside Boulevard and U.S.19 up to State Road 580.

The website is intended to show the type of redevelopment scenarios possible on the corridor and does not reflect any actual development plans of the city or the property owners. At the annual Florida Economic Development Council Annual Conference in early May,  the city earned an Innovation in Marketing award for the website and the marketing campaign, “U.S. 19 in Clearwater is the Next Great Place for Office Development.”

Kirkpatrick, who focuses on recruiting real estate developers and firms with jobs paying at or above the county average to the U.S. 19 corridor and other areas of Clearwater, says the webpage’s 3D animation video of redevelopment scenarios exceeded the city’s expectations in stimulating curiosity and interest.

“The video’s positive impact, I think it is fair to say, is greater than any of us expected, perhaps a whole lot more than we expected,” he says. “We have gotten a large number of unsolicited inquiries. I’ve been able to make material contact with large commercial real estate developers.”

The economic development team plans to launch a similar effort for small, older industrial properties along the Hercules Avenue corridor. 

“There’s a lot of property that’s built and in existence but, much like U.S. 19, could be redeveloped to increase the inventory of space the city has,” Kirkpatrick says.
While office development is the focus for U.S. 19, along Hercules, the city would seek to bring in good-paying industrial and manufacturing jobs, with developers and businesses assembling smaller parcels into a single project that allows for a larger building footprint and more efficient use of the site.

For all business recruitment efforts, Kirkpatrick says, “It’s important for us to know who we are and who we aren’t.”

“For example, we’re on one side of the state with water to the west,” he says. “While we have a large industrial and manufacturing base, a statewide distribution center may not work in an area like this.” 

Data analysis helps guide business recruitment efforts. Kirkpatrick studies Department of Labor statistics and compares Tampa Bay with other metropolitan markets in terms of the leading employment sectors and average salaries. He says IT is one area of strength that emerges from that type of analysis because it has a large presence in the economy but wages are not as high as in other metropolitan areas, such as Houston or Dallas, that Clearwater may be competing against. The added advantage of the area’s weather and lifestyle also helps attract firms and talent.

Bringing private industry experience to the public sector

Mayeux joined the economic development team in early 2023 after eight years in real estate and commercial and residential lending. He meets with real estate brokers and developers to discuss redevelopment possibilities along the 19 corridor and, along with Kirkpatrick, focuses on identifying properties in the city that are suitable for redevelopment.

“I meet with commercial brokers and develop relationships with property owners, with site selectors, businesses looking to potentially relocate and also businesses already established here in the city if they have to expand to a larger site or have some other real estate need.”Dylan Mayeux brings industry experience in real estate and commercial and residential loan origination to his role as senior real estate coordinator.

Networking is a key part of the role. Mayeux routinely attends Florida Gulfcoast Commercial Association of REALTORS pitch meetings and market updates and CREW Tampa Bay networking sessions. 

With his real estate and mortgage loan experience, Mayeux has taken on a dual role in the Economic Development & Housing Department that includes working on affordable housing initiatives. He works with developers and nonprofits to pencil out the finances of affordable housing developments, works on property swaps involving sites identified for affordable housing, negotiates terms and conditions for land sales and funding of affordable housing as well as lease agreements for nonprofits at public facilities. He also handles real estate services for the city on various land swaps, donations and property sales.

“It’s a pretty robust role,” Mayeux says. “It’s an interesting blend. I can assure you there are no dull days. It’s my first role in government. I’ve been in private industry my entire life. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a challenge but I think the team here is really exceptional and I’m really proud of the work we’ve done so far. I’m excited to see how our hard work is going to culminate in something larger along U.S. 19.”

Continuing established economic development activities 

The economic development team has expanded its focus on real estate while maintaining its traditional activities and roles.

“We have always had a marketing component,” Sanderson says. “We’ve had business retention and expansion services to help businesses grow”

Audra Aja handles marketing and communications for the department.

“I support the efforts of the team by developing and implementing marketing and PR strategies that allow us to tell the story of why Clearwater is a great place to do business,” Aja says. “Through a variety of traditional and digital marketing tactics, I share about the services we provide and the resources available to support real estate development and investment and assist in business attraction, retention and expansion activities for the city.”

Stephanie Scalos, who joined Clearwater’s economic development team in October 2019, focuses on business retention and expansion. Scalos’ primary focus areas are target industries such as manufacturing, IT, health care, and finance. Stephanie Scalos handles business retention and expansion for Clearwater's economic development team.

“I develop and maintain those relationships with current businesses in the city and serve as their liaison if there is anything they need assistance with,” she says. “If they need help connecting with resources, I can assist them. If they are going through the permitting process to do any renovations or expansion on-site, I can advocate for them. Because that process can be complicated and lengthy.”

In addition, Scalos has worked on several city grant projects in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the Back to Business program, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, or ARPA. Those ARPA grants put money into the community for education, cultural affairs/nonprofits and initiatives in the newly established North Greenwood Community Redevelopment Area.

While Scalos steps up to work on these grant programs, she says her primary role is as a business liaison and business advocate.

“If a company is looking to expand and they have to go through the planning and permitting process, the earlier I get involved, the better it is,” Scalos says. “I can help coordinate meetings and get questions answered as they coordinate plans. When they submit the plans, if they are required to go through any additional steps, I can help advocate along with them -- this is a key employer in the city looking to expand and add jobs, what can we do to assist them and make this as smooth as possible? Also, sometimes they are going to have hiring needs. I can connect them to resources like SPC (St. Petersburg College) or CareerSource Pinellas. I want businesses to know that they do have someone within the city to turn to with any kind of question. If I can't help them directly, I can point them in the right direction.”

For more information, go to Clearwater Economic Development and U.S. 19 redevelopment opportunities.

For prior stories in this, go to Clearwater sees U.S. 19 as Tampa Bay's next booming corridor.

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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.