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Work on Main Street begins

The long-awaited restoration may inconvenience shoppers because it is in a busy part of downtown Brooksville.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2002


The long-awaited restoration may inconvenience shoppers because it is in a busy part of downtown Brooksville.

BROOKSVILLE -- Evelyn Duncan has a lot at stake in Brooksville's downtown renovation project, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Duncan and her husband, Bill, own the Antique Sampler Mall at Main and Liberty streets, as well as Courthouse Antiques one block to the north.

The renovation project, which includes burying utility lines and installing brick crosswalks, could seriously disrupt pedestrian and car traffic for the next five months.

But the work, which will focus on a three-block stretch of Main, should eventually lure potential customers downtown, Duncan said. It could especially benefit antique shops, because it will emphasize the city's historic qualities.

"The bottom line is, if we can endure whatever is going on, I think it will be wonderful for the city of Brooksville to be drawn into the other century," she said.

The city will have a groundbreaking outside City Hall at 5 p.m. today. Afterward, representatives from the company doing the project, Atlantis Construction of Tarpon Springs, will answer questions from business owners and other members of the public in the City Council chambers.

"I'm not really clear what they are going to do," Duncan said Monday. "I guess after (Tuesday night) I'll have a better idea."

Atlantis will be paid $590,000 for the work, which will include clearing utility poles and wires from Main, between Liberty and Fort Dade Avenue. Workers will build "bulb-outs" -- brick extensions of the sidewalks intended to encourage foot traffic and to slow car and truck traffic. They will put in planters, decorative street lights, benches and trees.

The cost of the project, $846,000 including engineering costs and fees to Florida Power, will be paid for mostly by a federal Community Development Block Grant. The city provided a $150,000 match for the grant, and the county paid about $100,000 for the bulb-outs.

The city expects to miss the grant's deadline for finishing the work, which is mid December, and has requested an extension through the end of April. The city will not lose funding because of the missed deadline, said Ann Rowe, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs. But because the city cannot apply for another grant until the work paid for by this one is completed, it will delay the next application by six months.

The city could have applied for another grant this winter; as it stands now it will apply for another grant in midsummer, said Bill Geiger, the city's community development director.

The delays were caused by coordinating the activities of several utilities and governmental agencies, including Florida Power, the county and the state Department of Transportation, Geiger said.

"It was a monumental task. It's not just like a neighborhood grant, where you are just looking at your own infrastructure," he said.

"This is a little bit more intricate because you are dealing with the timing of other utilities and governmental agencies."

It also not that late, considering the city has been discussing downtown renovation plans for nearly 20 years, said City Clerk Karen Phillips. She also said Brooksville anticipates applying for more grants and continuing the work in other parts of the city.

"It's a steppingstone to improve things downtown," she said.

The project probably will inconvenience shoppers, she said, partly because it is in the busiest part of downtown. Future work, where the traffic is lighter, will be less disruptive, she said.

Also, Phillips said, the results will be worth it.

"It feels wonderful" to finally get started, she said. "I'm so excited about it. There's a lot of potential in this."

-- Dan DeWitt covers the city of Brooksville, politics and the environment. He can be reached at 754-6116. Send e-mail to dewitt@sptimes.com .

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