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Redevelopment district would continue momentum of Kass Circle improvements, official says

Empty store fronts at Spring Hill Plaza on Spring Hill Drive. Tuesday, the County Commission will consider making the area around Kass Circle a community redevelopment district.
Empty store fronts at Spring Hill Plaza on Spring Hill Drive. Tuesday, the County Commission will consider making the area around Kass Circle a community redevelopment district.
Published Oct. 22, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — A year and a half and dozens of Post-it notes later, Hernando County's effort to revitalize what was once the town center of Spring Hill is about to reach a new plateau.

On Tuesday, the County Commission will consider making the area around Kass Circle a community redevelopment district. The designation would provide new funding opportunities to improve and develop Spring Hill Plaza into a vibrant business location and community gathering spot.

The step could finally transform into brick and mortar the paper-based reports and renderings, and the YouTube animation of what the future might hold for the area.

The effort began with a gathering of residents and business owners in an empty storefront in the plaza in February 2014. Awarded a $20,000 grant from the state's Office of Economic Opportunity, the county brought in the Florida Center for Community Design & Research at the University of South Florida and professor Trent Green.

With help from Green and his students, the participants used maps and Post-it notes to sketch what they thought Kass Circle needed in order to become an attractive town center where residents could work, shop, eat, live and play.

High on the lists for residents were more security, calming the traffic on Spring Hill Drive, bike trails, open space and a community gathering spot. Based on those observations, Green and his students put together a plan. But making it work required not just support from the community and the county, but a willingness for the private sector to buy into the concept.

Establishing a community redevelopment district will help with that, according to Patricia McNeese, the county planner who has been coordinating the project.

State law allows the designation of community redevelopment districts when an area meets certain conditions, such as insufficient infrastructure, inadequate roadways and not enough parking. The first step in forming a district is to do a detailed study to establish a finding of necessity.

In the case of Kass Circle, some of that work has been done by a group of USF urban planning students. In July, the County Commission recognized 16 students for examining Kass Circle based on the list of conditions set forth in state statutes.

Funding for community redevelopment districts comes from what is known as tax increment financing. What that means is that tax revenue generated from future increases in property value within the district are set aside to support community redevelopment plan projects. Running the district is the job of an agency board, which can include public officials or community representatives.

All of that gets worked out later, McNeese said.

The key to making such a district work is "it is going to have to be community initiated,'' she said.

McNeese has encouraged the residents and business owners who have been interested in improving Kass Circle to express that interest to commissioners on Tuesday.

Since the original phase of planning was completed, several activities have moved the redevelopment plan forward.

One was the opening of a Sheriff's Office substation in Market Place Plaza on Kass Circle. The grand opening was July 17, and Sheriff Al Nienhuis thanked owners Bindu and Steve Eriksson for providing the space rent-free.

Another addition to the plaza is People Helping People, an organization that has provided tens of thousands of meals to the hungry since it was established in 2009. This year, the county granted the charity permission to open headquarters and a community resource center at the site.

The organization is still preparing its capital campaign to raise at least the $400,000 needed for planned renovations, according to Doug Brainard, president of People Helping People. In the meantime, the group is moving ahead with the planning of a garden at the site to grow fresh food for its program while also teaching people how to grow their own healthy foods.

Built in June, a sidewalk along the north side of Spring Hill Drive is another welcome addition in the neighborhood. Previously, pedestrians had to traverse business parking lots and driveways. Sidewalks are one of the improvements specifically mentioned during the community brainstorming effort.

Two Kass Circle cleanup days also have been conducted, netting more than 2 tons of trash and old furniture. There also have been 34 new street lights added to the area last year.

Bus benches are another new feature, and there are plans for a new Green Route for THE Bus, which will reduce the wait between buses to 60 minutes early next year. That route will also run down Spring Hill Drive to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

McNeese said she is pleased with all that has happened since the spotlight first fell on Kass Circle.

"Just a little focus and attention it has gotten has some things going on,'' she said. "This will give it the boost it needs to let the community sit down and decide what they want there.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.