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Plan to revitalize south Brooksville on more solid ground

BROOKSVILLE — Like so many times before, there is a new vision for south Brooksville that boasts big hopes and even bigger dreams.

But this time, at least, the concept has gone from big picture to blueprints.

A group of community activists officially unveiled their "initial vision" land use map to local officials and other power brokers last week, presenting an ambitious development plan for the deteriorated and depressed neighborhood.

"This is a most exciting time for our community," said Frankie Burnett, one of the leaders of the effort, a lifelong resident of the area and a former Brooksville City Council member. "We've already been talking to developers and investors. This is a vision that we're really getting people to buy into."

Cobbled together from nearly a year's worth of meetings with residents and community activists, the plan calls on cooperation from neighborhood leaders, city and county agencies, business owners and other investors.

The rough draft for the area includes roadway and infrastructure improvements, a corporate park, strip malls and businesses along Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, which runs through the heart of the predominantly black neighborhood.

Officials are also counting heavily on plans for commuter rail and enhanced bus service as part of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority's master transportation plan. A large swath of the map released May 11 included a corridor for rail on the west side of the area.

"That rail is so critically important to the plans," said Jennene Norman-Vacha, city manager for Brooksville. "And that's been the exciting thing … people are not thinking about just next year. They are seriously looking at the future."

At the moment, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has come closest to making something happen in the area. Construction has started on a roughly 1,600-square-foot community center on the east end of Dr. M.L. King that Sheriff Richard Nugent hopes will serve as a gathering place for residents.

City officers and county deputies will work at the center, but Nugent has taken great pains not to refer to the building as a sheriff's substation. Nugent envisions the center being used for recreational opportunities for school-age children and a meeting space for community groups.

Nugent said the center could open as early as the second week of July. "We're really optimistic that it will be open," Nugent said. "And I want everyone to put on their thinking caps as to what kind of things they'd like to see go on in that building."

After decades of neglect and waste in south Brooksville, government officials and community activists believe they finally have a solution to make life better in the crumbling neighborhood. This comes after a number of fits and starts to make changes in the past that were ultimately undone by failed plans and broken promises.

Burnett and Pastor Herman Scrivens of the Eastside House of God, in particular, have been working hard over the past year to sell the community on the idea of the master plan.

"We had people thinking outside of the box," Burnett said. "And I think everyone agrees that we have a great plan here."

County Commissioner Rose Rocco, who has previously suggested asking for more stimulus money to make improvements in south Brooksville, said she was impressed by the plan, but realizes there's a long way to go.

"We've got to have a vision to set something in motion," Rocco said. "Now we've got to see what grants and investors are out there and willing to do some things."

Paul Douglas, a former member of the Brooksville Housing Authority who has been active in various community projects, has been tabbed as one of the local leaders to pursue interested investors.

However, Douglas took on a more deliberate tone when talking about the plans. He said that turning the blueprint into a reality might take upward of $50 million.

Douglas called the map "the start of a beginning."

"To support what they want to do, we've got to get water infrastructure, sewer infrastructure and electrical infrastructure that just does not exist right now," he said. "It's a pretty big job. They've got some big ambitions, and they can work. But we're very early in the process."

Reach Joel Anderson at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Plan to revitalize south Brooksville on more solid ground 05/17/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 17, 2009 6:02pm]
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