Clermont City Manager Delivers 2020 State of the City Address
Downtown is looking up and business is booming in Clermont.
Those were key takeaways from City Manager Darren Gray’s 2020 State of the City Address Jan. 30 at the Clermont City Center. Gray highlighted Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan milestones, Wellness Way progress, department accomplishments and Clermont Champion citizens of 2019. He also premiered a downtown promotional video.
“This past year, we delivered on our promises,” Gray said, “and we continued to make history in our great city.”
Mayor Gail Ash welcomed the packed room of business owners, residents, real-estate agents, nonprofit organizations, elected officials and others interested in the future of Clermont.
“Clermont continues to lead the way in Lake County,” Ash said. “We’re proud of the progress we’ve made with our projects this year. We have a phenomenal staff and it’s because of them that all of these wonderful, exciting things are happening in our city.”
Gray thanked the mayor and council for leading the city to new heights. He also acknowledged the passing of Council Member Ray Goodgame last year, whom he called “one of Clermont’s most passionate Champions.”
Master Plan Milestones
Gray overviewed the city’s “incredible progress” on its award-winning, $22-million Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan. City council adopted the plan in 2015, and the city is on track to complete the 10-year plan in about seven years.
Here’s a recap of the city’s 2019 Master Plan milestones:
- Victory Pointe became the city’s new location for major events, “strategically placing people at the footsteps of downtown” for shopping and dining; it also won statewide, regional and national awards.
- City monument signs were installed at city limits to reinforce the city’s distinct brand.
- The new Kehlor Recreation Center opened to expand senior programming downtown.
- The new City of Clermont Boat Ramp opened with more ramps and parking.
- Streetscape improvements got underway, including plans to repave streets and add flush festival bricks, eliminating curbs for a seamless pedestrian experience.
- Legacy Loop Trail Bypass work continued, extending the South Lake Trail up to downtown’s shops and restaurants.
- The city added over 200 public parking spaces, totaling over 1,000 public spots downtown.
- Plans progressed for City Hall Park and “Meet Us in the Middle,” which will celebrate Clermont’s location as the halfway point on the state’s Coast-to-Coast Connector.
- Preparations were made for the Art Walk, which will break ground this year. The project will celebrate the arts and encourage connectivity between the waterfront and downtown. A public-private partnership spurred an adjoining commercial development, which started construction.
“Downtown Clermont is activating,” Gray said. “What it comes down to is, the public sector is investing and the private sector is implementing.”
Gray pointed out that a record 176 businesses opened in Clermont in 2019, which is 37 more than in 2018; and 21 of those were downtown.
“The City of Clermont made strides like never before on the business front,” Gray said. “That means more local jobs to fuel our economy.”
Particularly, Gray commended the 2019 opening of downtown’s second brewery, Clermont Brewing Company. Suncreek Brewery opened in 2018.
“These breweries have sparked a vibrant nightlife downtown,” Gray said. “They are bustling with activity every evening, from trivia nights to group runs to live bands.”
He shared that downtown will be “further enlivened” by a new townhome project, Montrose Street Market opening this spring, and Heritage Square shops and restaurants planned nearby, anchored by the area’s first distillery.
“Business is thriving all over Clermont,” Gray said, mentioning new retail, office and medical plazas, industrial centers, restaurants and fitness studios.
Gray added that the city introduced a business liaison position last year to provide white-glove concierge service for all business needs.
Also, Gray mentioned that city council passed a multifamily moratorium last year, which is scheduled to lift in April.
“Clermont is a place of responsible growth,” Gray said. “Putting a pause on multifamily project approvals allows us to evaluate our code to ensure smart, sustainable planning and affordable housing in Clermont.”
Wellness Way Updates
As for the largest project the city is involved with, Wellness Way is making strides.
This long-term plan for the South Lake region covers over 15,000 acres with significant potential for economic impact.
“The city is working with Lake County government and private developers to lead the way,” Gray said. “A lot of behind-the-scenes work is being done to ensure a coordinated road network and a strategic mix of development.”
Wellness Way is being spearheaded by Olympus, which city council approved in May 2019.
The 243-acre sports-wellness community “aligns perfectly” with the city’s Choice of Champions brand.
Projected to be a world-class destination for professional, amateur and Olympic events, Olympus plans to include training and competition venues, sports medicine facilities, housing, dining, shopping and entertainment. It is projected to create over four thousand jobs and over $1 billion in economic impact.
In 2019, city departments continued to preserve and enhance the quality of life for the Clermont community by providing exceptional services.
To name a few highlights, the City of Clermont’s finances remained strong and stable while its taxes remained among the lowest in Central Florida; crime dropped 7.5 percent from 2018 to 2019; and Clermont Fire brought 46 percent of its heart attack patients back to life in 2019 – well above the national average, including a 45-minute CPR success story that made national news.
Here are some more accomplishments in 2019:
- The city reviewed its charter and proposed two amendments, which passed in the November election.
- Parks and Recreation launched swim and tennis programs and a new fishing event. Community attendance nearly doubled for arts and recreation programs, and the Clermont Performing Arts Center sold out three shows.
- Clermont hosted the American Cornhole Association’s State Championships, will host a portion of the 2020 Professional Disc Golf Association’s Amateur World Championships, and will be the first stop on the national 2020 Kayak Bass Fishing Pro Tour.
- The Clermont Youth Council and Public Safety Youth Academy completed their first years.
- Fire Chief Carle Bishop retired after 49 years, and the city welcomed Chief David Ezell.
- Finance Director Joe Van Zile retired after 34 years, and Pam Brosonski was promoted.
- Clermont Fire Marshal Jennifer Pierce won Florida Fire Marshal of the Year.
“As a city, we like to cheer on our incredible residents,” Gray said. “Our community members demonstrate what it means to be a champion in a variety of ways, from athletics to the arts.”
Gray recognized the following Clermont Champions who made national or international headlines in 2019:
- Council Member Diane Travis won gold at the National Duathlon Championships and silver at worlds.
- East Ridge High School graduate Michaela McLean won Miss Florida and made the top 15 semifinals in Miss America.
- Mari Jones and Kayslin Victoria competed on Season 16 of NBC’s “The Voice;” Jones made the Top 13 on Team Adam Levine, and Victoria made the Top 30 on Team John Legend.
- Rod Price, founder and coach of the Clermont Dragon Boat Club, won three gold medals at the Dragon Boat World Championships.
- Small business owner Allison Fogarty made the “Rachael Ray Show” for starting the dog treat company DOGGY Delights By Allison.
- Swimmer Charles Weatherbee took home five gold medals at the World Police and Fire Games at age 86.
- Lake County Rowing Association recently broke two world records in three days.
Gray’s leadership has been transformational for the city. He became city manager in 2012, led the city’s rebrand to Choice of Champions in 2014 and implemented the Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan approved by council in 2015.
Gray’s professional highlights of 2019 included joining Leadership Florida and accepting the University of Central Florida 2019 Alumni Achievement Award in Public Administration.
To stay up-to-date on the City of Clermont, visit www.ClermontFL.gov, subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter and follow them on Facebook. View their downtown promotional video at https://youtu.be/NzeU6qY5d5c.