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Lobbying in Tallahassee might pay off for Kumar estate

A last-minute lobbying trip that city officials took to Tallahassee this month has put Oldsmar on track to receive up to $1.1-million in state funding.

But not right away.

The first round of grants from the Florida Communities Trust won't include any money to reimburse Oldsmar for buying the Kumar family's 5.5-acre bayfront estate in 2003.

Instead, the trust's Florida Forever program should be able to award a grant to the city in the next year as more funds become available, said Stacie Anderson, government operations consultant for the Florida Communities Trust.

"With Pinellas County being such a populated area, we know that park space and open space is very important to the citizens," she said, "and we look forward to working with the city of Oldsmar to get them these funds."

Mayor Jerry Beverland, director of parks and recreation Lynn Rives and grants specialist Melodee Dinwiddie presented their case to the trust's governing board Sept. 1, and board members liked what they heard.

"I told them I've always wanted the property for the city," Beverland said. "We went out on a limb. That was a lot of money for a town our size, but we did it anyway. We saved that piece of land."

Going into the meeting, city officials were worried the trust's staff had given their project too low a score when they evaluated applications from local governments.

City Manager Bruce Haddock sent a letter to a dozen state senators and representatives asking them to call the Florida Communities Trust and voice their support for funding the purchase.

After a brief presentation from Oldsmar officials, the board awarded five extra points to the project, enough to place it in the running for what's known as contingent funding. That's money that becomes available later in the year. This year, the program expects to award $72-million in grants.

City officials paid $2.2-million for the estate of Roger and Lila Kumar. The city had planned to use the building, originally built as a hotel in the 1920s, as an arts center. But the city tore down the building instead after engineers estimated that renovations could cost as much as $3-million. Now officials are talking about adding walkways, benches and gardens to the property.

At a Sept. 8 City Council meeting, Beverland, Haddock and several council members said Dinwiddie's hard work on the grant application was ultimately the key to its success.

City Council member Jim Ronecker noted the city may be able to earn more grant money with the help of council members.

Council members in other cities are more involved in the grant application process, he said.

He encouraged his colleagues on the council to read a guide on grants and be on the lookout for ways Oldsmar can get funding.

"I just thought it was a good idea for us to look at that, too, and see if we could come up with some other alternatives," he said.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or