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Few businesses take advantage of Brooksville's matching grants

As she surveys the property on which her business sits, Cathy Mercogliano likes to imagine how it will look in the not-too-distant future.

She pictures a lush, landscaped path winding around the collection of funky metal sculptures, concrete statues and unusual wrought-iron decor toward the back of the property, where newly transformed buildings will create a Western-themed art enclave.

Mercogliano's antiques and curios shop, Great Stuff, has been around for 14 years. Although about 85 percent of her business is done via the Internet, seekers of oddities flock to her store at 503 S Main St.

Four blocks from the heart of downtown, visitors can find a wealth of unusual merchandise at the shop, from antique bric-a-brac to vintage clothes to old recording equipment. Across the street from her main store, more eclectic items can be found inside several auxiliary buildings. Larger items occupy a large part of the lawn.

But Mercogliano will tell you that her location away from the bustle of downtown is something of a liability. Even visitors to the monthly Market on Main Street rarely make their way down the sidewalk to her store.

"That's something I would desperately love to change," said Mercogliano, 56. "I'd like to make this more of an attraction that will bring people in to have some fun — like the Christmas House did all those years."

In an effort to create more eye appeal for Great Stuff, Mercogliano wants to take advantage of an offer by the city to pay for some of the improvements through a matching grant program designated for commercial property owners and administered by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Although the city has been offering the grants for more than a year, they seem virtually unknown to eligible owners, according to Brooksville community development director Bill Geiger. In fact, only one business has taken advantage of the grant program since its inception in June 2009.

He's not sure why.

"It's a little bit of a mystery," Geiger said. "It could be the economy, but I'm thinking we just haven't done a very good job getting the word out. We've had some recent inquiries, but not the number I had hoped we would be getting by now."

The grant program is paid for by a special tax increment financing trust fund. The city established a tax increment financing district in the late 1990s, and property tax revenue that has resulted from increases in property values in the district since that time goes into the trust fund. Both the city and county contribute to the fund annually. Last year, total contributions to the fund were about $104,000.

Last year the City Council, acting as the CRA board, set aside about $100,000 to encourage business owners in the city's older commercial district along Main, Liberty, Broad and Jefferson streets, and Fort Dade and Saxon avenues, to enhance their properties' appearances.

So far, the only completed project is the former Lady Bug Florist shop at 318 N Broad St. The property, owned by Anna and Tommy Smith, received a new paint job, plus repairs to its parking lot. The Smiths were able to get half of the $9,886 in repairs refunded by a CRA grant.

According to Geiger, the grants are offered on a sliding scale and can be used for exterior improvements such as landscaping, painting, facades, signs and parking. Geiger explained that once a grant application has been submitted, it goes before a review committee for approval.

Approved projects can receive a dollar-for-dollar match up to $5,000. With a 2-to-1 or 3-to-1 dollar match, the applicant may receive more in grant funds, up to a total of $10,000.

For Mercogliano, it's a pretty good deal. During the past few weeks, she has met with contractors to get an idea of how much the makeover of her property will cost. So far, her plans include landscaping, fencing, a new facade for one of her buildings and possibly a new sign.

Although she says she has the money to pay for all of the work she wants done, additional CRA money would boost the number of improvements she would ultimately decide to do on her property.

"(The grants) are a great way to kick-start things," she said. "Brooksville has a lot of great possibilities for someone who owns or is trying to start a business. It's good to know that there's some help out there available."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

To learn more

About the program

Anyone interested in applying for funding through the city of Brooksville's Community Redevelopment Agency may call community development director Bill Geiger at (352) 540-3850.

Few businesses take advantage of Brooksville's matching grants 10/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 16, 2010 12:51pm]
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