Frankie Burnett Jr. cut to the chase. Amid the PowerPoint display, colorful illustrations and talk of federal grants financing new infrastructure, the former Brooksville vice mayor noted the citizens' mission statement for the impoverished and long-neglected neighborhood that crosses the city's southern boundary into unincorporated Hernando County.
Working for the past year under the auspices of the county-created Community Initiatives Team, the group wants South Brooksville to be a safe, healthy and economically viable place to work, play and live.
Or, as Burnett succinctly put it — the people want the amenities they've been deprived of previously. It is a reasonable request and one city, county and private-sector interests are trying to fill. The progress is encouraging.
The main corridor, Martin Luther King Boulevard, was repaved last year. In the fall, county commissioners authorized economic incentives to try to lure new businesses to the Enterprise Zone in South Brooksville and this week, commissioners approved a new street-lighting district for the area. A Sheriff's Office Community Center is under construction and when open will provide a visual crime deterrent, plus playground space and community activity rooms.
But there have been setbacks as well. The county was unsuccessful in obtaining a $200,000 matching grant from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program — the state awarded no grants this year — to improve Kennedy Park. The county already resubmitted its application hoping for a better outcome in the future, but no immediate change is foreseen until the economy and state revenue collections, improve.
In the meantime, commissioners are unlikely to try to absorb the entire cost of a T-ball field, lights, bleachers, playground equipment, picnic pavilion and parking spaces at the same time they are reducing maintenance expenses from next year's county budget.
Five days ago, the Community Initiatives Team briefed county commissioners on the progress of their ambitious revitalization plan after doing likewise for Brooksville's City Council earlier this month.
The challenge ahead is turning color-coded drawings into concrete development — drainage to ease the flooding, better roads, a rehabilitated housing stock and private sector investment in commercial retail centers and a corporate park.
It will require public acceptance of the conceptual planning, city-county cooperation, comprehensive plans amendments to alter land use changes, a short-term and long-term strategy to fix drainage problems, and a commitment of political will that must outlast the next election cycle.
It is understood that changes will not occur overnight. (See the 18-year delay in cleaning the county Department of Public Works contamination for proof.) But it is imperative that this latest revitalization plan not simply sit on a shelf collecting dust.
There have been enough unfulfilled promises. Burnett or a surrogate should never again have to appear before yet another group of elected officials saying it is time to give South Brooksville residents the quality of life amenities available everywhere else.