Brooksville native Frazier Mountain remembers that for more than five decades the Sinclair gas station at Broad Street and Brooksville Avenue served as a popular hub of activity while he was growing up.
The handsome white stucco building with the red Spanish tile roof sat directly across from the Hernando County Courthouse and right next to the Tamiami Cafe. Right around the corner was the police station and City Hall. To Mountain, who used to fold newspapers with his brother on the sidewalk prior to delivering them, there were few times when he didn't see someone he knew at the gas station.
"It was where the adults used to hang out," Mountain recalled. "Everyone important — City Council members, county judges, the police chief — they all got their gas there. And they knew everyone in town."
According to Mountain, the owners stopped selling gas there sometime in the 1970s, and the structure became home for a succession of small businesses. Its last incarnation, as Breseman's Pawn Shop, ended in 2006. Since then, the 5,500-square-foot building has remained vacant.
But according to building owner Powers Dorsett of Zeneda Partners Ltd., a major makeover of the building originally constructed in 1930 is in the works, and he hopes the finished product will quickly attract a new tenant.
"It's one of the most distinctive buildings in downtown Brooksville," Dorsett said. "For us, it's a link to the city's past, and we think that with some renovation, it will make an attractive location for someone wanting a prime business location."
City planners agree. Last week, Dorsett's company was granted $2,147.50 in matching funds from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to help pay for $4,795 in improvements that will include removal of two garage doors and replacing them with a stuccoed wall and windows.
Additionally, Dorsett said, there will be inside renovations, plus a new air-conditioning system and work needed to make the building compliant with standards set by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Perhaps most important, downtown will gain another distinctive gem with which to try to increase commerce in the sleepy city. And according to the city's community development director, Bill Geiger, the more owners who make improvements, and the more values rise, the more income the city receives from property taxes — and that means additional money that's available for improvements.
"I think a lot of people will be happy to see that building occupied again," Geiger said. "It's a very distinctive downtown landmark, and we're always wanting to see those being cared for."
Geiger said that the former gas station is the 13th downtown location to receive CRA money since the program was launched in 2009. Under the guidelines, commercial property owners can receive up to $10,000 in matching funding to use toward exterior improvements such as landscaping, painting, facades, signs and parking. Among the more notable downtown properties that have received the grants are the Lowman Law Firm, Pronto Cleaners and Westover's Gifts.
Geiger said that, so far, the city has distributed about $70,000 toward projects that have a cumulative value of about $465,000.
"It has definitely encouraged more private investment downtown, which we all want to see," he said. "And that's helping to attract and retain more businesses in the city."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.