The city of Zephyrhills is advancing a downtown improvement plan that amounts to out with the old and in with the old. It's a welcome convergence as the city seeks to preserve its history while simultaneously refurbishing aging building exteriors in its business district.
Last week, the City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, moved forward with the acquisition of the more than century-old Capt. H.B. Jeffries house on Fifth Avenue in the city's downtown historic district. The home of the city's founder was last a law office. In a separate vote, the council doubled the money available in its facade improvement program after 14 businesses applied for grants to spruce up their building exteriors.
Both are worthwhile investments. Buying the bank-owned Jeffries house, valued at $130,000 by a private appraiser, 5 percent above the Pasco Property Appraiser's taxable valuation, gives the city the ability to use the building as a museum or offices. It could also attach deed restrictions — ensuring the structure's preservation in perpetuity — and resell it to a private buyer. Future use hasn't been determined, but controlling the building is vital to maintaining Zephyrhills' heritage and saving a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
History, though, is just part of downtown's draw and the city is smart to help building owners dress up their businesses in anticipation of road improvements to U.S. 301 (Gall Boulevard), the main north-south arterial through the city. The city's heavily traveled intersection of State Road 54 (Fifth Avenue) and U.S. 301 downtown "is kind of in disarray there,'' observed council member Charles Proctor.
That's an understatement. The four corners at the city's core is an uninviting jumble of visual clutter that deflates the attractive streetscaping improvements of years past. Encouraging businesses in the vicinity to install new signs, awnings, murals, exterior paint or other fix-ups is a modest public investment that will pay off with better-looking downtown and renewed property values.