Last week, Brooksville Main Street made its request for funding assistance to the City of Brooksville and Hernando County Governments for the coming year. These are difficult times for all, so we know there are going to be some tough discussions and hard budgetary decisions. It’s appropriate and we expect it.
So, with this in mind, now is a good time to share reasons why we hope a better understanding of who and what we’re about might help you see that what we’re doing for the city is a good thing.
Which brings up the first important point. We’re not asking for support for us as individuals. With the exception of two full time staff members who make the wheels turn, the rest of our organization, and hundreds of unpaid volunteer hours that are totally dedicated each month to the purposes and goals of Brooksville Main Street, will use Brooksville Main Street funds to reinvigorate and restore the economy of the city. Our request is for, and will remain laser focused on, the revitalization of Brooksville’s downtown.
Because we are humans and citizens of the community, who we are as individuals at times seems to get in front of what we are trying to accomplish for our city. Just keep in mind we’re people – business owners, property owners, residents, just plain hard-working folks like you concerned for the future of Brooksville. If we’re going to be judged, let it be for what we accomplish for the city, not by rumor and unsubstantiated innuendo.
On that point, and because of comments we’ve heard, it may not be clear just who the Brooksville Vision Foundation is, how it came to be, and what its relationship is to Brooksville Main Street. So, let me offer a bit of history for context.
If you’ve been around Brooksville a few years you’ll remember the phenomenal success of Rogers’ Christmas House; that series of old homes on top of the hill a block off the northeast corner of Jefferson and East Broad Street that became nationally known for being a place where one could find Christmas 364 days a year. The only day they closed was Christmas Day, as I recall.
It was an amazing success story because of the vision and hard work of a lady everyone knew as Weenie Rogers. The Rogers family was well known and very much a part of the Brooksville community back in the early to mid-1900’s. They started a downtown retail store next to the old Sun Bank called Rogers’ Department Store. They started and owned City Garage which would become the Chevrolet dealership known today as Register Chevrolet. They owned a dry cleaners where Bobby Meadows Printing was located as well as a ladies and men’s clothing store where Patricia’s Boutique now stands on the southwest corner of Main and Broad Streets. Ms. Rogers also bought and restored many of the old southern antebellum homes just north of town on Olive Street.
Rogers’ Christmas House was such a tremendous success the entire town benefitted. Thousands of visitors were brought in every year by its popularity. Eventually, however, the last of the old family passed and its success waned. The store closed and began to fall into disrepair. That’s when a small group of individuals remembering its heyday and what it meant to the city, joined together to try and rejuvenate its wonderful success. The city was suffering as most small towns were. Commercial outlets and retail stores were moving from downtowns in droves for the malls and “big box” stores on the outskirts. Thus, the loss of the Christmas House had a significant and measurable impact on the city’s economy.
Unfortunately, the group’s dreams for the Christmas House became frustrated when the owner leased it to another party and removed it from the market. Nevertheless, knowing the city remained in deepening economic trouble, the group moved its focus from the Hilltop to downtown and began to hold public meetings to create a “2050 Vision Plan” for the city. The effort was closely coordinated with and officially adopted by the city. Here’s a summary of that plan excerpted from the city’s website https://www.cityofbrooksville.us/community-development
“Welcome to the City of Brooksville Comprehensive Plan. While this document is intended, in the short term, to address the years from 2017 to 2027, the Plan establishes Goals, Objectives and Policies designed to shape the City through and beyond the year 2050. The Plan represents the collective ideas and dreams of Brooksville stakeholders who participated in the Brooksville Vision Foundation’s meetings from 2011 through 2015. This document describes the preferred future of Brooksville expressed by stakeholders. These stakeholders spoke with a strong voice about what they value in their community and what they want for its future – safe, walkable neighborhoods and parks, a thriving downtown district that maintains the historic charm that has existed for decades, a strong educational foundation for Brooksville’s youth, vibrant local business districts, and excellent housing and employment opportunities throughout the City.”
By that time, the group had created a 501c3 non-profit organization called The Brooksville Vision Foundation and it was also during those discussions that the concept of a Florida Blueberry Festival was conceived and pursued by the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. The two organizations, working together with the city, made it happen.
The single most important thing the Florida Blueberry Festival brought to Brooksville was a new belief in itself. Never before had an event of its size been planned and executed so successfully within the jurisdictional boundaries of the City. It took a lot of people and organizations all working together to make it happen, and, after it all, there was no denial it was a monumental success. Yes, over the five or so events that were held over the years, there were controversial aspects which even today cast a shadow over the Brooksville Vision Foundation (BVF), mostly because of that word we hear over and over – transparency – but the BVF today is a different organization.
The departure of the Florida Blueberry Festival to another city, simply put, took the city’s oars and rudder with it and left it adrift. Once again, the city had no organized effort to help it find its way to the future, economically or in any other respect. But the experience did one positive thing. It left a taste, and that taste was of success and a new confidence that the city had the wherewithal to define its own future. The belief became, “Hey, we can do this.” All it had to do was bring the people, businesses owners and property owners together in concert with the city and county governments and anything would be possible. It was new energy found.
Not wanting to lose the inertia of the larger Florida Blueberry Festival, talk began among business owners to hold another but smaller festival. At the same time, the thought of forming a long-term effort consistent with the concepts of the National Main Street program began to gain traction. At last, here was a concept that offered clear, graspable ideas with actual proven outcomes based upon the experiences of other cities across the nation, and it was available for the asking.
The National Main Street Center leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.
It was a simple but profoundly fitting opportunity. While it would not provide funding for local programs, it would provide guidance and a roadmap for communities exactly like Brooksville that were hoping to become economically stable and continuing to grow while protecting the unique architectural heritage that gives them special charm.
So with the motivation still high to find a path for the city’s future, the Brooksville Vision Foundation set out to: 1) investigate the program, 2) gather the support of the city and county, and, (3 create the organization, Brooksville Main Street, within the auspices of the Brooksville Vision Foundation.
Today the role of the BVF is to support and nurture the Brooksville Main Street program in a manner that reflects the basic tenets of the national program by gaining and maintaining the support of the community and governments and garnering the involvement of large numbers of committed volunteers in order to create the kind of community that will attract visitors from elsewhere and give them an experience that will bring them back again and again, if not to stay permanently.
As mentioned, we want to be judged by what we accomplish, so in future posts I’ll bring you numbers that show while there’s plenty more to do; we’re doing well, but we want to do better.
And that means wanting to be more transparent and improving the support of our community, especially the Brooksville City Council. However, the term “transparent” is one of those words that’s relative. People have used the term to suggest we’re hiding something. So, if that’s their aim, solely to cast a light of dishonest dealings where there are none, then no amount of openness is going to satisfy them. In my last post I was clear that there are some who want to kill the Brooksville Main Street Program, and for those there will never be enough openness because that’s not their goal. Nevertheless, we have nothing to hide and will continue to work closely with our Brooksville Main Street investors to assure full disclosure of how our public sector dollars are working to enhance the City of Brooksville.
Next up: Just What is Brooksville Main Street?
Stay Tuned …
The Voice of Brooksville Main Street
For more information about early efforts of the Brooksville Vision Foundation see https://www.hernandosun.com/Brooksville-Vision-Foundation