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Phoenix taps Amato as new CEO
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Phoenix Community Development Corp. President and CEO Sergio Amato works the group’s booth at the Fast Track 2013 trade show Wednesday at the Clock Tower Building at Commonwealth Centre. Amato took over as Phoenix president at CEO on March 1. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Phoenix Community Development Corp. did not have to look far to find its new president and chief executive officer.

Sergio Amato, who was on the nonprofit development organization’s board, was named to the post effective March 1. He succeeds Ray Gibbs, who had led Phoenix since 2010 but quit recently to pursue new opportunities.

Board Chairman Nancy Spilman said Amato “brings real estate and financial expertise to the table.”

“He is familiar with Martinsville and the surrounding area and is passionate about leading efforts to revitalize this community,” Spilman said.

Amato moved to Martinsville about 2 1/2 years ago with his wife, Lucy, a native of the area. He most recently was an independent consultant but he previously spent almost 20 years in the Chicago area, where he worked as a real estate developer on the North Shore and in financial services.

All of his career experiences until now have been with for-profit businesses.

“It really appealed to me to work in a nonprofit organization ... to help improve the community’s quality of life,” Amato said, explaining why he pursued the Phoenix presidency.

As the New College Institute and Patrick Henry Community College have grown, new industries have come to the area and organizations have begun collaborating on projects, Amato sees energy that he thinks will lead to an economic transformation locally.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to capitalize on this positive energy and move the community forward,” he said. “I believe community revitalization is an important area of focus for Martinsville and Henry County.”

Phoenix’s first projects have aimed at helping revitalize the uptown business district, including the planned redevelopment of the former Henry Hotel into a mixed-use building, mostly for apartments but with spaces for stores and restaurants.

That project has been slow to progress, largely due to problems in obtaining state funds and tax credits sought to cover the estimated $4.6 million cost. Spilman said Amato has the knowledge and experience needed to assemble financing packages including multiple funding sources.

Such packages often are necessary to start costly development projects, Phoenix officials have said.

Some other Phoenix projects, including the development of a new mixed-use building, were placed on hold until a new president was hired.

The new building was to have been erected on Fayette Street uptown, but business people in the area were concerned about the effects it would have had on parking nearby. Phoenix is searching for other potential locations.

Amato said he wants some time to adjust to his new job and examine projects from a CEO’s perspective before elaborating on their statuses.

However, he said he thinks the former hotel still is “a viable, attractive project” and Phoenix will work with the city — which now owns the building — to redevelop it.

That pledge is put forth even if the city ultimately chooses another developer to spearhead the project, Amato added.

City officials have a proposal for the building from another developer but they have not yet discussed it publicly.

Spilman indicated that following Gibbs’ departure, Phoenix needed to find a new leader as soon as possible.

Amato was the only person interviewed for the president/CEO’s job, and no official search was done, Spilman said.

She said it may have taken up to three or four months to conduct a search and board members determined Amato — with his background in finance and real estate — was the right person at the right time.

Since they know him, they know what he is capable of doing.

“You do a search and you don’t always know what you’re getting” in the person hired, Spilman said.


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