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Project unlikely to win grants

Brooksville's hopes for beginning a downtown revitalization project are dim after the news from the city consultant.

For months, Brooksville's leaders pinned their hopes on a $600,000 federal grant that would have given the city enough cash to make substantial improvements to its downtown business district.

The city applied for another grant, also for $600,000, as a sort of insurance policy. Because the city had previously received two such grants, it was considered a sure thing.

Wednesday afternoon, the city's consultant, Angie Brewer, informed staffers it probably would receive neither grant.

"I'm disappointed," Vice Mayor Mary Staib said.

"I really thought that we could start something this year," she said, referring to the effort to revitalize downtown.

The state Department of Community Affairs _ which distributes these Community Development Block Grants _ has not yet officially announced the winners. But Brooksville's ranking clearly puts it out of the running, DCA representatives said.

Brooksville was ranked 10th of the 12 Florida cities that applied for the downtown grant; the top five or six will receive grants. It ranked 44 of 49 cities that applied for the sewer grant; 22 of these will receive money.

The city actually has little chance of winning the sewer grant _ the one its leaders thought was a lock _ at least for the next two years. Cities lose points according to the amount of money they have previously been awarded through this program. Brooksville has received about $1.2-million from it in the past five years.

But Brooksville's prospects for winning a grant for its downtown are not as grim as its low score might indicate.

"There's no reason, with some renewed effort, that the city of Brooksville cannot become very competitive," said Rick Stauts, planning manager for Community Development Block Grant program.

Generally, cities win these grants by demonstrating a far-reaching effort to improve their downtowns; they cannot seem dependent on grant money as a sole solution.

"Government money cannot revitalize a downtown. It's up to the property owners and residents. We can only help create the environment to where it can take place," Stauts said.

So the grant credits cities for such work as creating special tax funds for downtown redevelopment, which Brooksville has done, and for participation in the Florida Main Street revitalization program, which it has not.

Because these factors are scored objectively, the writing of the grant application matters little, Stauts said, and the city's decision to change its grant consultant probably did not directly affect Brooksville's chances.

Clark, Roumelis & Associates of Tallahassee won the city's two previous grants and was poised to apply for the downtown grant. In May, the city hired Angie Brewer & Associates of Bradenton, which originally bid for the job in conjunction with Coastal Engineering Associates of Brooksville.

Because of a controversy surrounding the way the firm was chosen, the city has been without a consultant since January. This could have affected the city's application, Stauts said, because a good consultant could advise the city to put programs into place that would help it win a grant.

A city architectural review committee, for example, would have meant an extra 10 points; the city fell about 60 points short of what was needed to get funding, Stauts said.

It could have received 30 more if it had agreed to pay all its engineering costs, and if it had preliminary designs already drawn up. Karen Phillips, the city's director of administration, said staff members had originally recommended hiring Clark, Roumelis & As-sociates because it also is an engineering firm, and some plans would have been submitted as part of the application.

Brewer did not return a telephone call to her office Thursday.

Phillips said these are all lessons that can be applied next year. One of the advantages of applying for the grant is that it encourages measures _ such as Main Street _ that will move the revitalization effort forward on other fronts.

"This doesn't mean we're dropping this. That means we're reapplying and regrouping," Phillips said.