Clearwater taps Baltimore official to manage downtown revitalization

Jaye Matthews has made a career out of looking for bright spots when blight seems to overwhelm a neighborhood.

As an operations officer in Baltimore’s housing department, she said she helped bring 1,345 residential units, a school, two new parks and a $22 million renovation of a recreation center to a neighborhood in need.

Now as Clearwater’s new Community Redevelopment Agency director, she will be tasked with leading revitalization in a downtown that has been struggling for decades.

“My first thought of downtown Clearwater, if I had to put it into one word, would be opportunity,” Matthews said in a recent interview.

“Clearwater is more than just the most beautiful beach in the U.S. Downtown should be a place to draw people to have opportunities where people can live near where they work, to have a happening Friday night ... and I can envision that because I’ve seen it done in so many places.”

Matthews, 47, will be Clearwater’s third Community Redevelopment Agency director in six years when she begins on Dec. 5. The City Council, acting as the redevelopment agency trustees, voted unanimously to hire her at a salary of $122,900 upon recommendation of City Manager Jon Jennings. The city received 11 applicants for the job.

A Maryland native, Matthews fell in love with Clearwater 12 years ago when she was on vacation in Orlando and decided to drive to the Gulf Coast. She’s visited every year since.

She graduated with a doctorate in business administration from Walden University on June 25 and applied to the Clearwater job three days later.

“I’m a person who listens to people, and I just want to come in and not dictate my vision but really help implement the vision,” she said.

Matthews said she’s impressed by the investment the city is making downtown, like the $84 million redevelopment of the waterfront park, which will include a 4,000-seat amphitheater to create a regional entertainment destination.

But she said she’s also informed about the unique dynamics of downtown, with companies tied to the Church of Scientology having purchased about 160 properties since 2017 and kept most of them vacant.

She said her approach will be to keep communication open with all stakeholders, including Scientology.

“The first thing I think is really important is full transparency,” Matthews said. “We need to figure out, ‘OK, you own this property. Are you going to operate a business? What type of business? If you’re not, are we able to collaborate and partner so we can put a business entity there?’”

During a meet-and-greet with redevelopment agency finalists at the Main Library in September, Matthews said three representatives of the church introduced themselves and told her “that Scientology is ready to do what they need to do to collaborate with the city.”

“I just know what I was told,” Matthews said. “I’m going to follow up on that.”

Before starting in Baltimore’s housing department in 2019, Matthews worked in homeless services. As director of a shelter, she expanded emergency services and helped secure $1 million in donations, according to her resume. She also served as a program administrator for a Baltimore homeless nonprofit, where she managed a federal grant program and oversaw communication with residents transitioning to permanent housing.

In her Clearwater role, Matthews will also lead the implementation of a community redevelopment agency in nearby North Greenwood. That plan is expected to go before the City Council in the next few months.

The redevelopment agency will establish a special taxing district in the historically Black neighborhood to help support an economic renaissance.

“I’m very enthusiastic,” Matthews said. “I’m very interested in connecting with members of the community and seeing their vision forward.”