1. Business

Lowman law firm's refurbished building a good sign for Brooksville

Most businesses expect new, expensive office buildings to make a statement.

And these days it seems as though personal injury lawyers are about the only people who can afford to build such workplaces, the ones impressive enough to do double-duty as billboards.

So what statement does the Lowman Law Firm's month-old office — in a totally refurbished building in downtown Brooksville — make about Joe Lowman, 38, and his wife and fellow lawyer, Stephanie, 40?

The handsome, latte-colored stucco exterior, polished hardwood floors and tasteful furniture all say what lawyers usually want their offices to say to prospective clients: We've done pretty well representing folks like you.

The second-floor balcony says the Lowmans want to be able to see and wave to neighbors passing on the sidewalk below.

The office says they didn't want to leave an abandoned building in the middle of a densely developed business district. It says they were willing to invest in an area that will make a lot of other people's property worth more.

The wooden doors and the wrought iron railing on the balcony? These say the Lowmans wanted their office to blend in with the other old buildings in the neighborhood.

No, this isn't the only fixed-up old building in downtown Brooksville. But it is kind of project the city's been waiting on for a while: an ambitious, well-financed renovation project that sends a message that there just might be a future in downtown Brooksville — old Brooksville.

On historic insurance maps, the first business to show up at the corner of Liberty and Main streets was a livery stable, in 1885, said Bob Martinez, publisher of Old Brooksville in Photos and Stories.

Then it was the site of a grocery store and, later on, another livery stable. These were in an older, wooden building, Martinez said. The current, concrete one didn't go up until just after World War II, he said, and over the years has been the home of a music store, WWJB Radio and a succession of antique stores.

By the time Joe and Stephanie Lowman and the other investors in the property — his uncle and aunt, Matthew and Beverly Lowman — bought the property two years ago for $140,000, it was empty and owned by a bank.

Their renovation seemed to kick off a run on a matching grants program the city offers for improving the exteriors of downtown buildings, said Bill Geiger, the city's community development director.

The money comes from the creation of a special tax district that allows some of the property taxes collected on downtown properties to go into a fund for the improvement grants.

Even the maximum amount, $10,000, didn't cover much of the cost of the Lowmans' renovations, which came to at least $200,000.

But other downtown property owners with less ambitious plans noticed the improvements and learned about the grant program and contacted the city. They realized it could be a big help in buying an awning, a new window or fresh paint job.

Since the Lowmans received their grant in January, the city has handed out six more and started reviewing plans for several other projects that might qualify.

"This year has been fantastic," Geiger said. "It's been contagious."

It may even be the start of the momentum in improvement projects that was crucial to revitalization of cities such as Mount Dora and Dade City.

The more owners who make improvements, the more values rise, the more income the city receives from property taxes and the more money that's available for more improvements.

Joe Lowman, by the way, didn't make any such big claims for the new office.

Though he grew up in Tampa, his family has been in Hernando County for decades, and he and his wife live with their three children in an old house south of downtown.

"We just decided that if we were going to invest in a new office, we should invest in our home, and Brooksville is our home," he said.

They considered building a big office on State Road 50 or U.S. 19.

Many more people would seen it as they drove by. More potential clients would have gotten the message that the Lowmans are good advocates and go-getters. They stayed in Brooksville, though, and said a lot more.