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Big shots get ball rolling on Brooksville's revival

Cars line Main St. looking south in downtown Brooksville Tuesday afternoon.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2009)

Cars line Main St. looking south in downtown Brooksville Tuesday afternoon.

Bob Sierra put up $100,000, and he's not even from Brooksville.

What about you natives, I want to ask. When are you going to come through?

But that's not the way to go about it, I'm told, even though it's always struck me that one of Brooksville's problems is that its generous people aren't that rich and some of its rich people aren't that generous.

"If you try to guilt people into it, that doesn't work," said Marlene Spalten, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

No, it's better to do what Sierra has done. If you set an example, especially if you're an extra-big shot like Sierra, the developer of the super-upscale Avila subdivision in Lutz, other big shots will want to join your club.

"You have to create a collective attitude about giving ... make it popular," Spalten said.

Sierra, who owns a home in Spring Lake and planned the now-dormant Hickory Hill development in the same part of the county, donated the money to Spalten's group for Hernando projects several years ago. At a recent meeting of the Brooksville Vision Foundation, Spalten said that much of it is available for the revival of the city's downtown.

And does it ever need reviving.

Actually, the entire county needs a healthy Brooksville, needs it to be for us what Dade City is for Pasco County — an urban heart pumping vitality into the rest of the community.

Also, many people in this county made their money spreading faceless tract housing, strip development and whatever you call the mess — a gas station here, a McMansion of a law office there, a liquor store in between — that I pass on my way to work every day.

The least they can do is help create a scenic, social hub as a counterweight.

(I know. Guilt. Not good.)

The only influential, longtime Brooksville business person who seems to fully understand this need is Cliff Manuel, owner of Coastal Engineering Associates.

Manuel also serves as president of the vision foundation, through which he's pushed a proposal to reroute state-maintained highways so the city can put an end to the one-way traffic pattern that has stalled downtown redevelopment for two decades.

Once two-way traffic has been restored, we'll need a plan to make the streets inviting and walkable, he said. This should include architecturally coordinated signs setting the boundaries of downtown and helping people find attractions in the city.

And, yes, Manuel said, if we put money and effort into downtown, there will be attractions.

"I would like to make Brooksville the urban and cultural center of Hernando County," he said.

Manuel is also on the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and one of the few locals who can speak authoritatively about the benefit of Brooksville's designation as a future mass transit hub — namely encouraging dense, mixed-use development even before the arrival of light rail or express bus lines, which, admittedly, are a ways off.

So, too, are any benefits from Sierra's donation. It's intended as seed money — to be matched 2-to-1 by contributions from other sources — for an endowment that will pay off as it grows through investment and added donations.

It's a small amount compared to, for example, the community foundation's $182 million endowment.

But it's a start, and there's a plan. Put it together and it seems as if downtown revival is getting to be pretty popular with big shots these days .

Also, some of you could absolve yourself of the sin of spreading sprawl.

Sorry for taking the guilt route again, but it's the truth.

Big shots get ball rolling on Brooksville's revival 02/28/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 4:55pm]
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