City Manager Darren Gray was honored by the Clermont community for his 15 years of transformational leadership.
Several local leaders saluted Gray during his final council meeting Dec. 8 in Clermont City Center. He received a standing ovation from attendees.
Gray is best known for elevating the city’s reputation, rebranding the city, and bringing the Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan from vision to reality.
Mayor Tim Murry and council presented Gray with a special key to the city and a plaque.
“Mr. Gray’s vision, dedication and enthusiasm took the City of Clermont to a whole new level,” Murry said. “He has created a lasting legacy with his tremendous contributions to economic development, sustainability and much more.”
Assistant City Manager Susan Dauderis presented Gray with a proclamation establishing April 28, Gray’s birthday, as Darren Gray Day.
She also gave him a framed copy of the news release that announced his acceptance of the deputy county administrator position in neighboring Orange County Government starting Dec. 14.
“The level of commitment and service Mr. Gray brought to Clermont will forever be a benchmark for the city’s future efforts,” Dauderis said. “He embodies what it means to be a true Champion.”
South Lake Chamber of Commerce President David Colby gifted Gray with a plaque in appreciation for his positive impact upon the business community.
“Darren has helped make Clermont a great place to live and a great place to do business,” Colby said. “We truly believe we would not be the Choice of Champions without his efforts. We will certainly miss him, and we wish him all the best in his next position.”
Lake County Chairman Sean Parks praised Gray for their strong city-county relationship.
“On behalf of the Lake County Commission, we thank him for his great service to Clermont and to the county,” said Parks, who also worked with Gray when he served as county manager.
Leaders of other community groups also expressed their gratitude.
Gray has led numerous successful initiatives in the past eight years as the city manager and CEO of Lake County’s largest city. Upon his departure, he oversaw 400 employees, managed a budget of about $158 million and served about 44,000 residents. He was assistant city manager for the seven years prior to his promotion.
“I have been honored to serve this incredible city,” Gray said.
“It has been a thrill to see Clermont grow into the special place it is today. Working with an amazing, supportive council and a talented, dedicated staff, we have accomplished so much together. Clermont will always have a special place in my heart.”
Under Gray’s management, the city has earned numerous awards, including Top 20 American Cities Leading the Way in Economic Development and Quality of Life, Top 20 American City for Retirees, Best City in the USA for Triathletes and Families, Best Place to Train Like an Olympian, Best Central Florida City to Live In, and Best Central Florida City to Start a Business In. Clermont also won the Florida League of Cities’ City Spirit Award for crime prevention and a was named a Florida Trail Town by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Perhaps most notably, Gray held a series of community-wide visioning sessions that drew more than 1,000 people and prompted the creation of the city’s $22-million, award-winning Master Plan to revitalize the Downtown-Waterfront District and bring more arts and recreation to Clermont.
Major projects completed include the award-winning Victory Pointe stormwater filtration system, a new Kehlor Recreation Center for seniors, a new Clermont Boat Ramp, the creation of Legacy Loop Trail and the Clermont Art Walk, and streetscape improvements. Gray ensured that the city delivered on its promises ahead of schedule, executing a 10-year plan in an estimated seven years.
As a result, the private sector has made record investments in capital projects, stimulating economic and business development downtown like never before.
Downtown is thriving with new businesses and entertainment, including two breweries, two indoor markets and dozens of other shops and restaurants that opened in the last few years.
“The implementation of the Master Plan far exceeded anything I’ve ever been a part of,” Gray said. “What we’ve accomplished here has been phenomenal, and it was the community who drove it.”
Gray also launched the city’s “Choice of Champions®” brand in 2014, inspired by the haven Clermont has become for professional athletes – and for champions of all walks of life who call Clermont home.
Gray has been integral to elevating the city’s reputation, attracting world-class athletes and events to Clermont, as well as a 250-acre Olympus sports and wellness community that is estimated to create over 4,000 jobs and over $1.4 billion in economic impact.
Olympus is spearheading Wellness Way, a 15,000-acre growth and innovation corridor in South Lake County being jointly planned by the state, county, city and private developers.
During his eight years as city manager, Clermont’s population jumped 47 percent, its square footage grew 30%, the per capita personal income level rose 22%, the total taxable property value leapt 93% and annual single-family residences doubled; the city issued almost three thousand business tax receipts, and the number of annual building permits jumped 200%.
Additionally, Gray spearheaded the city’s Open for Business plan, creating a business liaison position and making the city an even more attractive place to do business.
Among his other accomplishments, Gray led the acquisition and opening of the Clermont Arts and Recreation Center, including one of Central Florida’s largest performing arts centers; the 220-acre Lake Hiawatha Park, the million-dollar Clermont Boathouse, Champions Splash Park, a new Clermont City Center. During Gray’s eight years, the city tripled its park space and doubled its trails.
Under Gray’s leadership, the city’s finances have been sound, and its millage rate has remained among the lowest in Central Florida.
Gray leaves Champion-sized shoes to fill. An internal and external recruitment process has begun for the next city manager, with an anticipated start date in April 2021.