BROOKSVILLE — With its mix of historic buildings, oak-canopied streets and sidewalks, downtown Brooksville holds a natural appeal for pedestrians, shoppers and those who just want to spend a quiet afternoon soaking up the laid-back atmosphere.
But many are of the opinion that the city could do better in beckoning downtown visitors with small pocket parks, benches, water fountains, gardens and ponds.
Three years ago, the City Council hired Coastal Engineering Associates to revise the city's 14-year-old community redevelopment plan and to come up with ideas that might help create a more cohesive look and feel in the downtown area — something that would entice visitors to stay longer.
Under the guise of the city's community redevelopment agency, council members on Monday night asked Coastal to proceed with its proposal, which includes both short-term and long-term initiatives. The proposal calls for the creation of a conceptual master plan for the small improvement projects, the design of points-of-interest signage and other downtown gateway improvements, plus a stormwater master plan that will enable better utilization of land for parks, parking lots and bicycle and walking trails.
A longtime cheerleader for improving the image of downtown Brooksville, Mayor Lara Bradburn said the city needs to step up its efforts to make itself seem more "neighborhood based." Doing so, she said, will make the city more attractive to organizers of events such as the Florida Blueberry Festival, the Brooksville Cycling Classic and other large events that are capable of bringing visitors into town for longer stays.
"There are lots of inexpensive things we can do so that people feel welcome while they're here," Bradburn said. "Every successful downtown area I've ever visited has features that make people want to stick around. That's what we need to do."
Ideas such as pocket parks and playground parks built on vacant lots or irregular parcels would provide for passive activities such as reading, picnics and nature appreciation. Brooksville community development director Bill Geiger said that such amenities can be built inexpensively and often can be done as a private-public partnershhip.
"Right now, we have between 15 and 18 sites we think could be improved and made more attractive," Geiger said.
The city's community redevelopment agency has budgeted about $80,000 for this year, enough to pay for about three such projects. The money that would be used comes from a special tax increment financing trust fund.
As Brooksville continues to climb out of the recession, Bradburn believes the city's downtown district will continue to see economic benefits as visitors rediscover it. That's why she is anxious to see the city pursue improvement projects.
"Those projects we started a few years ago, such as the Good Neighbor Trail, are bringing more and more people into the city," she said. "We need to be prepared for that."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.