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Business 2005

Brooksville: Development brings hope of economic growth

A building spree will provide jobs, services and places to live, the community development director says.

By DUANE BOURNE
Published February 13, 2005


In the past two years, Brooksville annexed more than 1,600 acres that eventually will hold 2,500 housing units. The city's population could increase by 50 percent during the next decade, officials say.

Now, after months of land use hearings, impact studies and quarrels with Hernando County, the city has reached the point where construction is ready to begin this year.

"The city really did not have a lot of development in the unincorporated areas over the last decade and even the last year," said Bill Geiger, Brooksville community development director, "but we are about to enter a 5- to 10-year period of rapid growth."

The building spree will fuel the city's economic growth, Geiger said, providing jobs and services in addition to places to live.

"We are seeing a positive growth in and throughout the immediate area," Geiger said. "If we are going to continue to be a place that is attractive, then we need a positive economic outlook."

The city's economic well-being will remain tied to efforts to market the downtown area.

Completed in January 2004, a revitalization project downtown involved the burying of utility lines and streetscape work that includes a historic motif and traffic-calming measures to entice pedestrian traffic. The city completed a landscape project last year on U.S. 41 south of downtown, a major artery to and from the city's center.

The aim is to attract more people to the downtown area, but city officials have found it is costly.

"Downtown is not cheap to maintain," Geiger said. "Systems will deteriorate, and with the existing tax base, you are faced with not having the money to maintain the downtown areas."

But the alternative is not good, he said.

"I have traveled through towns in Florida out to Georgia where you can see that they have not had positive growth. You see a lot of empty businesses and people moving out."

To prevent that from happening in Brooksville, officials plan to find funding sources to expand on what has been done downtown - adding more bulb-outs, streetscaping and traffic-calming devices.

The private sector might lend a hand, Geiger said.

During the past seven to 10 years, he said, property owners have been investing in the overall plan for the downtown business district: to attract people to downtown. To keep the momentum going, officials have looked into providing low-interest loans to business owners who want to make facade improvements.

Geiger acknowledged that for the city to grow, it will need to provide more infrastructure, and it plans to do that with the increase in the city's tax base and through other means.

During this fiscal year, officials expect about $4.7-million of growth in its tax base because of development, such as Southern Hills Plantation.

Brooksville is getting $860,000 from the Legislature to build a reverse frontage road along State Road 50 on the west side of town, which could spur business growth in that area. This year, officials expect to acquire right of way, design the frontage road and plan for construction.

The Good Neighbor Trial, a project that is expected to make strides this year, is tied into Brooksville's economic renewal as well. Last year, the city was awarded $130,000 from the state to start construction of the trailhead, an expected tourist draw.

The 11-mile paved path will connect downtown Brooksville to the Withlacoochee State Trail. Once completed, officials say, the trail could connect the state's longest trails, thus becoming the center of the region's recreational activities.

Officials say users could stop and shop in Brooksville during the day or spend a night at one of the city's bed and breakfasts or hotels.

"There has been a lot of excitement in the city lately, and the city has started to see it come to reality," Geiger said. "We think we are going in the right direction."

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:44:07]


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