An Open Response to Vice-Mayor Battista

by Natalie Kahler, Brooksville Main Street Executive Director

At the end of Monday night's Council meeting, Mr. Battista shared his thoughts on the Main Street District and program. He invited us to either attend a meeting to address his ideas or do it another way. I certainly hope to be able to address Council in person and would love to be put on the agenda in July or August, but didn't want to leave that big of a gap in time before answering him so decided to write this response.

This will read more personal than theoretical because my relationship with Butch is personal. We both ran for City Council and took office in 2014 and weathered many difficult decisions together. We voted the same way more often than not, and had similar goals for the city we wanted to see achieved in our term. I considered him a mentor in that role because of his legal background in government and carefully watched how he did our job. I participated with his wife for many years in a Bible study when our now adult kids were babies and our kids played HYL soccer together. Our personalities meant I was often taking the lead in controversial decisions, but I think Butch was happy for me to take the heat and I didn't mind as long as the right stuff happened in the end.

We both voted to bring the Main Street program to Brooksville and to contributing funding for its kickoff. So when I transitioned to ED of the program and he began talking about the district not being viable as a retail/restaurant corridor, I was surprised. Two years later and I still get surprised when he speaks that way so I'm grateful for the chance to address his perceptions with my own. These quotes in bold are summaries of his issues; you can see his entire speech here or watch this part where he specifically discusses Main Street:

  1. "There are no for sale or for rent signs in the Main Street district" There may not be signs, but there are vacancies and I refer people weekly to those building owners. Most of our property owners choose to get renters in other ways than "for rent" signs. Part of my job is to track those vacancies and report them to the State quarterly. Most of the current available spaces are larger ones that are not appealing to retail, but we do have several. We also have a vacant professional office currently being considered for a restaurant. We also have loads of second floor vacancies that I have been sending interested parties to view. And we have some really smart entrepreneurs who are figuring out how to use those spaces and owners willing to invest in the plan. In the future I believe those will be places our professional services will be most interested in occupying.
  2. "Brooksville Main Street doesn't want professional businesses in their commercial node...They want a different downtown than exists." We LOVE our lawyers, accountants, hair dressers and spa owners. A loss of our spa or yoga studio would be terrible. Professional service businesses greatly contribute to the viability of the restaurants and retail. They contribute financially to our events as sponsors in ways most other businesses aren't able. They provide stability to our property owners and thus incentivize them to renovate buildings. When the last consultants came in 2018 and people complained about the number of attorneys, the consultants disagreed and said they'd be key in our success. I wasn't sure I agreed at the time, but can say with certainty now that they were right.
  3. "The Main Street area is already a viable node" I agree with this. The downtown has become way more utilized in the last ten years and that is exciting. We don't want anyone who is here to leave. We want to expand what is here while making the most of some of our underutilized spaces. There are several ways we are working on this - one is that we are working with several property owners on the possibility of creating micro-retail business spaces that will create a bridge between being a vendor and having a large storefront. There are also empty lots that we are working on with developers to create more retail/restaurant spaces. And as all those spots fill, property owners will have reasons to make their second floors usable space. Yes, I keep mentioning the second floors. They are important. Take a trip to Ocala and see how vibrant their downtown is after they repurposed their previously empty upper floors. Those residential spots are the hottest ticket in town, renting per square foot for as much as our Southern Hills homes. In short, we have creative people with creative ideas that are working on ways to accommodate all the new businesses (and there are many) that are interested in planting roots in Brooksville as a result of being shown just how viable it is.
  4. "Main Street is a merchant's association" Merchants want to be downtown, especially along the Florida Mermaid Trail. That's usually the first thing they request when asking me what spaces are available. And yes, we do events to help generate traffic for them. But we aren't merchants and we aren't the boss of them. Some of them serve on our committees thankfully and we love their wisdom. But we are an economic development, beautification, and marketing nonprofit that focuses on placemaking. We develop a sense of home that makes people want to come and stay and play. We are glad to collaborate with the Chamber, but we are not just a duplication of them. We each serve our purpose and do it better when we both exist.
  5. "Artist renderings are beyond reality" I agree with Butch. I'm not a fan of artist renderings being done for people who don't own the buildings. One of the renderings put a beautiful fountain in the street in front of the Courthouse and it only makes me sad every time I think of it and the unlikelihood of getting it anytime soon. I have never brought a single random rendering to Council. Under my tenure, we have presented renderings to building owners for their own buildings. Several of them have implemented those changes. If you go throughout the district, you will find at least a dozen buildings who we have helped with design advice at their request. I'm a practical person who wants practical results and this has been our strategy.
  6. "The forty people they have on all these committees, I think they're going nowhere." This is a disturbing statement that I find needs immediate correction. Our committee members have provided free professional (architectural, legal, engineering, contracting, designing) advice to district businesses, organized the mobile mural projects, planned and hosted hundreds of free events, expanded our historical research, created popular (walking) tours to honor amazing citizens whose accomplishments had been previously overlooked, and will soon facilitate our first historic renovation. They have NOT wasted their time. They have greatly contributed to making Brooksville a better version of itself and I am immensely grateful for their trust in us and their advocacy for us. They may not be going where Butch wants them to, but I fully reject that there is not value in their contributions. The efforts of Main Street volunteers can be seen in realtors bragging about Brooksville being a Main Street community in their listings, the number of people that suggest that residents follow the Brooksville Main Street page to know what fun things are going on in social media, and the numerous businesses that contact the Main Street office wanting to know where they can find space to open, relocate, or expand their businesses in downtown Brooksville.

I think those are all the issues Butch wanted addressed. Let me know at natalie@welovebvl.org if I forgot anything and I'll happily add it.

I do want to address two items from a prior meeting that were discussed again by Councilman David Bailey and the Vice-Mayor Monday night. David asked Butch if it was true that Butch said the downtown was dead and no one wanted to walk it. Butch said that wasn't true and is reflective of the lies of social media (a reference to an old Voice blog). While Butch may not have used the exact verbiage "the city is dead" he did say at the City Council meeting on May 18, 2020:

  1. “not enough inventory [buildings] to make this thing kick off and stay going under its own steam” (starts at 2:01:20)
  2. “people see the town but I don’t think they come back” (starts at 2:02:30)
  3. “there is no draw here” (2:02:57)
  4. "we advertise more than we deliver...we're selling a product we don't really have in many cases"(2:03:12)
  5. "I don't see the draw to bring people" (2:04:51)
  6. "too many hills,” (2:04:58)
  7. “too dispersed, (2:05:01)
  8. ”an awful lot of residences intermixed,” (2:05:02)

So he didn't use the word "dead" but you can see how people made that the logical conclusion of his words. I'd just like to address two of those in particular:

"People come for these events but they don't come back" Talk to our businesses and you won't say that anymore. BMS events help get people in the door the first time, then the merchant's products create return customers. John at Country Depot and Bob at Easy Street Home Decor are masters at this data because they ask everyone who comes through their door where they came from and why. Go visit these men in their store and you'll get all the convincing you need. Visitors LOVE coming back.

"People don't want to walk the hills" The over 10,000 people that walked the Florida Mermaid Trail in 2020 would disagree with Butch. I've walked that route more times than I can count and it's always a challenge for this 49 year old body. But it is part of our charm. No one expects to come to Florida and hike up and down hills multiple times in a 2.2 mile route. Yet here we are! Now I will agree that it is challenging for those with disabilities. When I broke my hip last year and had to use a wheelchair and then a scooter, I admit I hit some stuff while gunning my scooter to get over a steep ledge. Addressing ADA walkability is still in the city's future. But the pandemic has accelerated people's yearning for outdoor activity and our arduous terrain is a perfect fit for those seekers. And it's a GREAT way to wear out your kids, something I was always searching out when my four were littles!

I am grateful for the good things Butch has done to help our city and am hopeful these answers will help him believe a little more in what we are accomplishing. Step by step. Day by day. Economic Development is a long term process and I look forward to being part of it for a long time to come. Hopefully with Butch as a partner.

Natalie

Monday night's (June 21, 2021) entire meeting can be seen here

Open Minds

Have you watched the latest Brooksville City Council meeting online? The most amazing and rare thing happened: an elected official gathered information and changed his mind after listening to the people of the community! It was so wonderful and refreshing to see City Council Member David Bailey explain how he filled out the annual review for City Manager Mark Kutney based on his personal experience, which had personally been good. However, after filing out the review, he talked to local businesses and residents around town and got a very different picture of how the City is being run. And he heard enough negatives all around that he went so far as to recommend termination of the City Manager’s contract during the meeting. Mr. Bailey is truly someone who understands what his role is as a city council member and takes it seriously. We find it quite refreshing to have a council member with a conscience and the willingness to back up his constituents.

Likewise, after seconding the motion to not renew the City Manager’s contract, Council Member Blake Bell talked about how many negative stories he heard regarding the management of the City, including from someone who wanted to open a business in Brooksville, but refused to open it within the City limits due to hearing how difficult the City is to work with. He also said he had spoken to people with businesses in multiple towns, and all expressed their frustration with Brooksville’s lack of support and help compared to other communities. As he talked, Council Member Bell demonstrated that he put the work into making his conclusions and not just went through the motions and made decisions from his own personal bubble. We definitely need more proactive council members in Brooksville, but it looks like we are on our way to a better future with Council Members Bailey and Bell. 

In a more perfect world, this would be a teaching moment for some of our other city council members who appeared to have made their decisions not based on community input, since they are so rarely seen at local events and meeting local business people, but on their own decades of serving on Council. (Yes, we have been recycling many of the same council members for decades, during a time Brooksville failed to thrive, so it’s no surprise that there are so few new ideas, nor even support for new ideas.) Council Member Battista went so far as to chastise Council Members Bailey and Bell as newbies who didn’t understand that there could, and have been, worse, and even corrupt, City Managers, which is apparently how he sets his standards for the job. And he claimed that the naysayers were just upset that they didn’t have “side door” access to the City Manager as they had in the past. Had he talked to local residents and business people, he might find that the actual complaint is that many don’t even have front door access, requiring multiple attempts to even get an appointment or phone call with the City Manager. Heck, even getting an acknowledgement response to an email is next to impossible from the City Manager for those who are not council members. And if they finally do get to speak to Mr. Kutney, they often leave feeling unheard and unsatisfied.

We urge the three other city council members to try to think back to when they were first elected and eager to support the community they live in. Get out, talk to residents and business owners and get an outside of City Hall perspective on how the City is responding to its citizen’s needs. Perhaps we are wrong and they will only hear happy stories of people content with the state of the community. Or perhaps they will hear the tales of frustration that both Council Members Bailey and Bell heard and remember to have an open mind about what is needed. Either way, they will have a better feel for the pulse of the city that they claim to care about. 

The Meeting can be seen at: Feb 01, 2021 City Council Regular Meeting - Brooksville, FL (swagit.com) and the discussion about renewing the City Manager’s contract starts around 3:17

Citizen Driven Main Street

After speaking to some residents today I realized that many people don’t understand how truly citizen-driven the Brooksville Main Street program is and how they can get involved. It seems an obvious thing to those of us intimately involved in the various components of the program, so I hadn’t realized that this needs to be stressed. We need to be clear that this is not a top-down driven organization, and it is not designed to be - and it will not work well if it is run that way. Apparently we haven’t been clear enough that everyone’s input is welcome and even desired, and that every part of BMS is eager for more volunteers - and that we are not just looking for one-time workers, but committee members who will generate ideas and follow up on them for the long term. I think it’s time to change that perception.

While the Executive Director of BMS, Natalie Kahler is the face you will see representing BMS the most at meetings, and Marketing Coordinator, Tina Marie is ubiquitous on social media, both have been hired to facilitate the goals of the four all-volunteer committees, which are fundamental to the Main Street program. These committees each focus on a specific part of redevelopment strategies and they are the ones who decide what projects to focus on, what events to put together, evaluate downtown’s needs, make short and long term goals, and determine how best to reach their goals. BMS is proud that they have committee members representing varied professions, ages, and skills and that come from both long time Brooksville families and new residents. Hopefully BMS will continue to add more and varied voices in the next year as well.

We plan to tell a bit about the individuals that coordinate these committees in future Voice posts, but here I will give a short run down of how Main Street and the committees are set up. As mentioned before, Brooksville Vision Foundation did not invent the Main Street program; rather, they joined an already established program that is both tried and tested in communities throughout the US. The National Main Street program began back in 1980 solely to help historic downtowns who were suffering from competition from malls and suburban development. Its success has been so great that in Florida, the Florida Main Street program is part of a state government funded program run by the Florida Department of State. Florida Main Street certifies applicants to the program, provides training and start-up grants, and has full time staff on board that is available for consultation and training, as well as reviewing quarterly reports in order to remain informed about how BMS is doing. To be certified, the Brooksville Vision Foundation had to submit an application meeting certain criteria, along with a commitment of support from local government. 

The National Main Street program has evolved over its 40 year existence as they’ve learned from both successes and failures. It provides a framework for revitalization that is not a set formula, but a way for a community to determine what makes it unique and how best to preserve that uniqueness while allowing it to realize its full potential. The program is a long term process that is entirely community driven and benefits from a network of other communities' experiences. The goal of a Main Street program is not to copy another community, but rather to use their experiences to generate ideas and adapt them in ways that keep Brooksville authentic. Many of the most interesting and thriving small towns in Florida have local Main Street programs that have been in place for years. Our thought is that if it can happen there, it can happen in Brooksville, too. But we also recognize that it is a long term commitment that won’t transform things overnight. 

The concept for Main Street programs uses what they call Transformation Strategies that are implemented through comprehensive work in four broad areas, known as the Four Points, which then form the basis of the four working committees. They are:

Each of these four committees has a coordinating chair and volunteers that meet regularly to generate ideas and move them forward. As the committee members are all volunteers, many with full time work obligations, the committees rely on the Executive Director to coordinate the ideas between committees, promote them locally and act as taskmaster (and way too often as a task doer). As anyone that has served in a volunteer organization knows, ideas are plentiful, but implementation can be difficult and often burns out the few “doer” volunteers. Having the right Executive Director to act as a facilitator and cheerleader is essential to the success of a volunteer run non-profit. Some committees, such as the Promotions Committee, which creates downtown events, require a tremendous amount of support both in terms of volunteer hours and staff time. Others, such as Economic Vitality, plan more behind the scenes type projects that need focus to stay on track with lots of research hours. In each case, the committees decide on the work to be done.

With that said, BMS always needs more people to add a diverse perspective and to help implement the large volume of work to be done. There is work for introverts, and for extroverts, for creatives and for researchers, for old and young, and anyone in between. The only thing we ask is that you believe that Brooksville has a vast amount of unrealized potential just waiting to emerge with the right urging. And I guess we would ask a second thing as well: don’t plan to throw out ideas for others to do - you have to be willing to follow through as part of your commitment. Saying “someone should do something about X,Y, Z” without follow through is not enough. You have to commit to being part of a team that will try to actively implement the ideas, knowing that not every problem has a simple solution and some may require some serious persistence. 

So back to the main point: BMS is truly a group run by citizens and wants to grow and expand its input. And it is a program that welcomes new volunteers who can bring new ideas and new energy to any of the four committees. For anyone that says, “Brooksville Main Street should do X,Y, Z”, we offer a platform and the support to help get it done!

If the city doesn’t support its community the community will not survive

Try as we might, it’s taking some effort to get used to “attending” City Council’s virtual “Zoom” meetings, right? While I was uncomfortable at first, I’m beginning to discover some advantages. For one, you can really see facial expressions. From disdain, disagreement, and discomfort to occasional relaxed smiles, which unfortunately are few, Council meetings have become a study in human expression. Much is communicated when they’re so up close.

It seems the topic most uncomfortable for them is Brooksville Main Street, mostly when Ms. Erhard brings it up, which manages to happen even when BMS is not on the City Council agenda. Whether it’s about dollars, certain individuals, events, economic development, banners, tip jars, bank accounts, road closures, insurance, etc., etc., she brings up Brooksville Main Street.

Meanwhile, the other members, in varying degrees, seem to appreciate that BMS is becoming a force for positive change in the city. They might be having pertinent and appropriate discussions about city concerns including about BMS, but always, no matter how appropriate and reasoned the discussion may be, it invariably gets muddled when Ms. Erhard’s predictably sarcastic voice breaks in to say something completely out of context about BMS.

Again, we ask, why is she so completely focused on destroying the best thing that’s come along for the city’s business and residential communities in years? At a recent Council meeting, dozens of letters supporting BMS were read into the record. Ms. Erhard’s reaction was to “blame” it on BMS rather than recognize that the Community wants to be heard. You’ll see BMS smiling every time it happens. (Thanks, by the way, to those who voiced their thoughts so strongly and clearly. Hopefully, Council Members are listening.)

One thought she keeps harping on which may be incorrectly resonating a bit among the other members is this: to her, funding grants to BMS are some sort of charitable largesse which should end at some point when BMS becomes “self-sustaining.” Let’s be clear about this, Brooksville Main Street is not a business looking for a profit to sustain itself. It is a NON-PROFIT organization run by Executive Director Natalie Kahler, Marketing and Events Coordinator Tina Marie Polson, and a large group of volunteers who receive neither pay nor profit from their involvement. Their clearly defined program is to do all they can to help the Brooksville downtown become a viable and thriving economic center while preserving and enhancing its unique natural and historical charm. To do this, they follow a national blueprint successfully implemented by hundreds of cities nationwide.

Based on the concept that buy-in breeds success, that blueprint urges local programs to seek funding from local governments, the private sector, and from the organization’s own efforts at fundraising events and activities, each contributing about a third of the cost of the program. It is not designed to be self-sustaining. The city’s contributions to Main Street are to help the community. If the city doesn’t support its community, the community will not survive economically. And it’s not all about financial backing. What Brooksville Main Street is trying so hard to do is to PARTNER with the City. The financial aspect, while important for reasons discussed in past posts, is only one part of what Main Street is asking for from the City. What It really wants is to move forward with projects in cooperation with the City to everyone’s benefit, whether it be events, supporting redevelopment efforts, or downtown improvements, small and large. What Brooksville Main Street really needs from the City is a “we like your ideas and enthusiasm and want to help” attitude rather than the antagonistic relationship that Ms. Erhard seems intent on fostering.

And this needs to be said: The things that Main Street does are done for the community, not city government. But since many of its activities are those the city perhaps would like to be doing but aren’t able to for various reasons, when BMS does them, it’s a favor to the City as much as it is to the community. Things like promoting the city’s businesses and building a sense of community among the businesses and residents lifts everyone up and should be welcomed by the city rather than questioned at every turn. Buy-in gives everyone ownership in the hard work of success, livability, economic viability, and just plain joy of being a part of it all.

And here’s a very pertinent point: when BMS is out there getting it done, it’s doing it for a lot less money than what it would cost the city. The success of Main Street is measured by the hard work of two paid employees and 189 unpaid volunteers who contribute thousands of hours of personal time freely given. These are volunteers who offer an amazing variety of professional skills including architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, artists, musicians, marketing personnel and more. This is what the city gets for the $45,000 of support funding BMS has requested. Compare this amount to the cost they’re estimating to get their own economic development program up and running now at a minimum of $131,000 and the questions regarding the value of funding for BMS becomes even more confusing.  Imagine how much further a city economic development arm could go with BMS by its side rather than starting from scratch. And you can't tell me that those volunteers who so regularly support BMS would be eager to volunteer for a city run economic development program. It’s just not how government programs work. But it is how public/ private partnerships work and how it should work between the City and BMS.

But wait, last week City Council voted to cut the amount it will budget for Main Street next year to half the amount requested to $22,500. What does that mean? It means, Brooksville Main Street will have to decide what it can still afford to do, and not do, on behalf of the community.

But you know what? The money’s important, of course. Critical, in fact. The really unfortunate thing, however, is that it seems to keep the city and BMS from forming an alliance that will truly benefit the community. It appears that some just cannot grasp what BMS is all about and the important role it can play for the city as a whole. It isn’t a pipedream. It’s a proven program. But maybe that tunnel has a light. All the candidates running in the coming election for City Council have indicated their support for Brooksville Main Street. So, will the city’s reluctance to join BMS in its work for the community be changing in a few months?  Let’s keep our hopes up.

In any scenario that may be coming forward, be assured, BMS looks forward to partnering with the City to help keep its costs as low as possible. As willing and supportive partners, so much more that needs to be done, can be done, and will be done for the great community of Brooksville.

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

What Your Friends and Neighbors Say About Brooksville Main Street

We have been so pleased with the outpouring of support shown by residents and business owners for the Brooksville Main Street program. They've said everything we'd like to say, ever so eloquently! Enjoy this video slideshow by Brooksville Main Street:

City Council Dumps Funding Support for Brooksville Main Street

The members of the Brooksville City Council are not all that different from most other small towns the size of Brooksville, one would think. But after watching how some council members continue to disparage what Brooksville Main Street has done for the city and what the city itself has not is … the word escapes me … “baffling” will have to do. It is clear, as a body they are out to destroy the only good thing the city has had going for it in terms of Economic Development in decades. City Council has now voted to remove all funding for Main Street Brooksville from the city’s 2021 proposed budget.

But as individual members, this position, thank goodness, was not unanimous. Members positions were as follows:

The Forced Vote

When city staff accidentally left Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director’s report they'd requested off the agenda and a motion with a second was on the table, the discussion that took place was on the motion and not about the agenda item. Erhard had made the motion before any discussion had begun then

Later, before the discussion was complete, Battista “called the question.” This forced a vote before further in formation Main Street might have offered as well as any Florida Main Street’s State Coordinator, Katherine Beck, who was available by telephone from Tallahassee, may have offered. Even the Mayor was prevented from sharing his opinion before the vote. Thus, despite anything the Mayor might have done, the discussion was then limited to the motion and not the overall information about operating the Main Street program that could and should have been available to the Council members before the vote. Had there been further debate, the information that would have been forthcoming might have resulted in a different outcome. Hopefully, what happened can be changed as discussed below.

The Nonsense of it All

Those who want to get rid of Brooksville Main Street seem to have no idea that abandoning the program is clearly not in the city’s best interests. I believe they know all the good things people are saying about what Main Street has accomplished. Yet some council members cannot stop their personal knowledge deficits and biases from blinding them to what the city needs and the opportunity that stands in front of them. They either cannot see or consciously choose to deny that Main Street is building real community belief in the city, hope for its future and, most importantly, that it’s achievable. What they seemingly pay attention to instead are continuous, unfounded, sometimes unrelated, rumors and incorrect or insignificant negative things about the program. This information is apparently provided to them by only a handful of individuals whose legacy has been negativity and destruction of plans to help Brooksville and who have never presented an alternate plan but simply been against anyone else’s.

The Message it Sends

The question you likely have is, why does it have to be this way? And so do I. But that’s perhaps for a future post. Just know that, as a body, they have bugled to all current and even prospective city businesses, property owners and residents, that they do not give a flip about what Brooksville Main Street is trying to do for the city and will not support it in the city’s 2021 budget in any form, period.

So, what’s going to happen to Brooksville Main Street? What’s the city going to do about Economic Development if Main Street can’t survive without the requested $45,000? Will the momentum Main Street has built - vis a vis the hard work and growing support from city businesses, property owners, and residents, and the increasing number of visitors to the city - be lost? As a start, know this: We’re not going away. I refer you to an insightful and thoughtfully written letter by Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director, Natalie Kahler, the morning after the city washed its hands of the program. Read it at this link: http://www.voiceofbrooksville.org/blog/2020/07/30/response-to-monday-nights-city-council-vote/

The City’s Short Term (?) Plan

Earlier in the meeting, City Manager, Mark Kutney had presented the Council a “strategic plan” for an Economic Development Office for the city which included the potential for two new staff positions and a sweeping set of new responsibilities for them and the rest of the city’s existing staff. A careful read indicates it’s simply an attempt to duplicate much of what Main Street is already doing. The Council told him to consider only one of the positions and charged him with adding further details including a better handle on what it all would cost.

Incredibly, Council Member Erhard said she supports the plan and is ready to implement it even before knowing the estimated final costs or how long it would take. Based on what was presented, even a very conservative guess might put the cost well over $150,000 and well over what the Main Street is already doing it for. As for how long it would take, my guess is several years just to get it semi-functional, assuming they can get in place all the complex coordination with the many other players involved and the volunteer support that will be required for it to work. City Manager Kutney also stated, but I don’t think it registered, that his plan, as presented, was only about one third (!) of what it would actually take to accomplish its stated goals. So, if the estimate for the effort described is roughly $150,000, is the total cost going to be three times that amount? It’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

So, is all lost?

Hopefully not. The city’s budget isn't finalized until September and even if it is, City Council can amend it later, but if it’s after September 30 the process becomes more complicated. Once Manager Kutney puts the cost together for his new Economic Development Office, working with Brooksville Main Street instead should become a more acceptable option. If there’s a chance to change at least one vote before then, we need to try, and there may be such a chance this coming Monday, August 3. See “Alert” Below.

Alert

If you’re one of Brooksville’s growing number of concerned businesses, residents, or property owners who believe and love our city and want your voice to be heard and have an impact, now is the time to let City Council know your feelings. You can do so by writing to each of the City Council members at the email addresses shown below, but you need to do it today (7/31). Natalie Kahler, Brooksville Main Street’s Executive Director, will be making its quarterly report to the Council this Monday, Aug 3. You can request your email to the Council to be verbally read into the record. Having your email read into the record by the City Clerk would be a great way have your voice heard, guaranteed! Just make sure it can be read in less than three minutes. Those of you who are in other parts of the county but love the city and many of the Main Street events it has held hopefully will write in as well.

Finally

Let there be no mistake. For the City of Brooksville to truly become the best city it can be and achieve what is clearly possible, there needs to be a strong interaction of sincere belief, appreciation, and support for the mutual roles that city government and the city’s community each must successfully carry out in unison. The Brooksville Vision Foundation and Brooksville Main Street believes it will happen and looks forward to having a strong and effective partnership with the city one day soon.

Council member email addresses:

jbernardini@cityofbrooksville.us

pbrayton@cityofbrooksville.us

rbattista@cityofbrooksville.us

wkemerer@cityofbrooksville.us

berhard@cityofbrooksville.us

mkutney@cityofbrooksville.us

jbattista@cityofbrooksville.us

Stay tuned …

The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

BMS ED Response to Monday Night's City Council Vote

WHAT LAST NIGHT'S CITY COUNCIL VOTE MEANS TO US:

Obviously we're disappointed.  To say less would be disingenuous as well as demeaning to those of you who've joined our movement and spent your time, talent, and treasure alongside us.

We believed our successes brought about by so many brilliant members of our community would mean our city would believe with us and continue their partnership. It didn't happen.

But be assured we are not going anywhere.

Five people hold the pursestrings to your taxes and by majority vote chose not to invest in us in 2021.  But you - the people - (residents, business owners, property owners, and lovers of Brooksville) will not lose this movement that means so much to so many.  But we will need your help - come to our Community Squad Open House on August 6 to find out  ways you can get involved!

We are grateful to our County government who has been so supportive at every step since BMS started.  Even when their budget issues last year meant they had to cut back cash funding, they've been by our side at all times, figuring out ways to contribute.  Recent examples: helping us provide outdoor seating for restaurants, lending parking spaces so restaurants could create outdoor seating, providing advice on projects and plans, administering CARES funding to our businesses, providing beautiful and inexpensive office space with County Tourism so we can further collaborate, and saying 'yes' to a new mural that will foster love for the arts in our children.  They see the vision and are helping make it happen and we couldn't be more honored by their support.

So now what?

Will we need to make adjustments to our plan after last night's City Council vote? Yes.  Will our progress timeline be impeded?  Most likely.  But does our end goal remain the same?  Yes.  We are still committed to making Brooksville its best version of itself and making it somewhere people of all ages and walks of life want to call home.  We will win this battle for the heart and prosperity of our community. It's a battle we the people cannot afford to lose.

Natalie Kahler
Executive Director
Brooksville Main Street

Click here to get to our Open House event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/314579366253674

An Open Letter to Brooksville City Council

July 7, 2020

City of Brooksville City Council
201 Howell Avenue
Brooksville, FL 34601

RE: Beautification Board/ BMS

Dear Council Members:

First off, I’d like to say thank you for my appointment to the City’s Beautification Board during last Monday evening’s City Council meeting. I feel strongly that I should support the City I live in by volunteering, so I submitted the application not long after we purchased a historic house in downtown Brooksville earlier this year. While we have operated a business in Brooksville for many years, we decided it was finally time to relocate our residence here as well and are quite happy with the move.

I will say that nearly everyone we talk to asks why we would leave Hernando Beach to live in downtown Brooksville. While being on the water was lovely and it was exciting every time a dolphin swam by, there was no town center, and not enough vibrancy nor character to feel a true connection to the neighborhood in HB. In Brooksville, there are things to do, places to go and friends to bump into at every turn. I try to walk downtown most evenings for exercise and nearly always see someone to wave to. I love that sense of community. That is especially important to me as we socially distance so much these days.

That said, I really was surprised to have opposition to my offer to volunteer, particularly from people that have never met me. As stated, I have a strong architecture and historic preservation background and thought I would be a natural fit for the Beautification Committee, much as I have been for the Brooksville Main Street Design Committee. And as both groups have similar missions, I can not for the life of me think how there could be a conflict of interest. The mistrust of the Brooksville Main Street program comes from those not involved in the program and who don’t seem interested in making an effort to learn more. The program enjoys great support from many business owners and residents who understand what it does and how it impacts the City.  Local merchants will tell you that the people that attend Main Street events and activities do return to downtown and shop and eat as a result. The optimism then results in business and building owners wanting to invest in their properties as well. 

Additionally, I was flabbergasted to be accused of trying to make a profit off the City for putting my licensed contracting company on an application for installing pole banner signs, when in actuality I planned to donate my services for free. This speculation, which went on for a bit in a public forum without my ability to respond, is very troublesome, particularly from our elected leaders. It is hard to not take offense to implications such as these, both towards me and others who are donating their time to the Brooksville Main Street program and in extension, to the City. 

I can assure you that I, and the many others I have met who volunteer their time for Brooksville Main Street do not have any nefarious intentions. What I see from those involved is a desire for the City to become its best version of itself so people can enjoy downtown, whether it be shopping, events, or having wonderful places for guests to stay. If all goes as hoped, Brooksville will benefit from an increased tax base, lifting the whole City up, and the increased revenue that benefits the City will come from visitors rather than from residents. 

Brooksville has such unrealized assets and is the only historic downtown in Hernando County -  the potential here is just waiting to be discovered. The investment that has been made here over more than a century is substantial in the construction of roads, utility lines, buildings, sidewalks, landscaping and so much more. That investment has resulted in a quaint downtown and attracted some wonderful people, many of whom have invested in downtown businesses. Continuing the already substantial investment in Brooksville through the revitalization program of the Main Street Program makes so much sense and leverages so much return for a relatively small investment. Turning your back on Main Street is turning your back on Brooksville in my opinion.

As I mentioned above, the goals of the City, whether it be through the Beautification Board or CRA or other City program should be very much in line with the goals of Main Street. Having us all working together could result in great things for Brooksville, and I would welcome a conversation with any Council members regarding my motivations and thoughts. Alternately, you are welcome to talk to one of the other volunteers, or sit in on committee meetings so you have first hand experience with how things work. 

Sincerely, 

Jo-Anne Peck
Design Committee Chair, BMS

The meeting referenced in this letter can be seen at: http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2.com/Citizens/VideoScreen.aspx?MediaID=7719&Frame=None

Biting the Hand that Feeds Them

You know something? There’s a difference between being outspoken because you’re a bully and being outspoken because you’re being bullied.

And I guess my last post has some at City Hall feeling that my outspokenness was an attempt by Brooksville Main Street to bully them. Comments at their last council meeting suggested it was akin to BMS biting the hand that feeds it. Well, that’s simply not the case. Instead, BMS is working very hard to increase and expand the hands that actually feed the city, by supporting growth of existing businesses and bringing in new ones which will bring added revenues to the city. Ultimately, these new revenues will far exceed its current monetary support of BMS.

Mostly through the hard work of unpaid volunteers, the truth is, Brooksville Main Street is doing everything it can to help City Council achieve what it and the City Council should mutually want, i.e., a vibrant, economically thriving community of historical significance worth preserving, and where living, working and raising children is a positive and safe experience.

But given the ongoing negativity and somewhat inexplicable animus toward BMS, what would you do? It has been made irrefutably clear by at least one City Council member that Brooksville Main Street should not be supported in any way by city government and has even introduced motions to that effect. This, despite significant and growing support from the business community for the program.

Look, here’s the bottom line. Brooksville Main Street has absolutely no desire to be at odds with City Council and will continue to be as cooperative as it can even in the face of adversity no matter where it comes from, including Covid-19. BMS has no choice. The community of Brooksville has no other organization with a program that includes two full time employees and exists exclusively to serve the community’s interests. To put it succinctly, finding itself at odds with City Council in any way, does not serve the community’s interests.

However, I also believe there’s a responsibility in there somewhere to step up and speak out when it’s appropriate. Like I said in my first post, if kudos are deserved we’ll give them, but if not, we won’t, and we will say why we won’t as honestly as we can and as frankly as we need to.

So, along that line, I’d like to offer a round of thanks and sincere appreciation for the council’s 4 to 1 vote approving Jo-Anne Peck to the City’s Beautification Board. Ms. Peck is well suited for the task as she has the educational background, imagination, energy, and a positive spirit that will serve the board well. Those voting in support of Ms. Peck were Mayor Joe Bernardini, Vice Mayor Pat Brayton and Council Members Bill Kemerer and Robert Battista. Council Member Betty Erhard voted against the appointment because she claimed Ms. Peck’s membership on the Brooksville Vision Foundation Board represented some kind of “conflict of interest,” despite being advised by the City Attorney that it wasn’t. (Her animus toward BMS seems endless. We cannot but wonder what’s really behind it. It is hurting the city).

I also want to thank City Manager, Mark Kutney, for attending a recent meeting of the Brooksville Vision Foundation which oversees the Brooksville Main Street program. I’ve never held an elected position but I’ve worked with many city councils and county commissions throughout my career. Elected officials particularly at the local level do not have an easy task. Nor do the administrators who work for them. It is painfully true that there is simply no way to make “all the people happy all the time,” as the saying goes. So, I commend Mr. Kutney for his service and professionalism in the face of that truth.

Finally, based upon comments made at the Council’s last meeting, I think it’s important to clarify that Natalie Kahler is not the writer behind the “Voice of Main Street.” These posts are written as a collaborative effort among a number of people who are extremely interested in the future of the City of Brooksville and, consequently, the “Voice” represents the voice of many committed individuals, not just one. To conclude Natalie is the author is incorrect and she should therefore not have to bear the burden of being accused of such.

… Stay tuned.
The Voice of Brooksville Main Street

P.S. Ms. Peck's application to the Beautification Board and Brooksville Main Street's request to install Welcome to Brooksville banners and Florida Mermaid Trail way finding signage are all discussed at the July 6, 2020 City Council meeting: http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2.com/Citizens/VideoScreen.aspx?MediaID=7719&Frame=None

Why Doesn't The City "Believe In Brooksville"?

If you Google “banner,” you’ll find among other definitions that it is a “a long strip of flexible material displaying a slogan, advertisement, etc., especially one suspended between two points.” You will also find they are typically used to refer to “something that represents a belief or principle.” I don’t know where Google gets its information, but it’s not from the City of Brooksville. This I can tell you.

(the offending banner)

In Brooksville, a banner is considered a very dangerous thing that can only be used for certain purposes by a business or building owner and only under the good graces of the City’s very professional ordinance executioners. It is a thing that is so dangerous to the public that its use must be as carefully controlled as one might try to control a virus, allowing them to be displayed only as permitted and only for specified lengths of time lest their presence spread and infect the innocence of a community’s children.

So, given the danger of such a thing perhaps it was foolish to think the city might understand and even appreciate Brooksville Main Street’s harmless proposal that the city’s businesses display a banner declaring their belief in Brooksville. All it was intended to be was a way for them to show support for their wonderful city and the Main Street Program in the middle of the real fear and economic devastation that Covid-19 was unleashing upon them. It would be a way for them to declare unequivocally that they were “in this together” and their spirit and determination to survive would not be deterred.

Thus, notwithstanding this perhaps overly positive view of the world, why is it not entirely perplexing that, upon learning 41 businesses thought it a swell idea and hung a banner proudly about their premises, the city declared them to be a danger to all and is threatening to issue citations and levy fines if they are not removed immediately?

Seriously.

*(Brooksville Main Street had created a novel way to get folks downtown and into stores by creating a “Scavenger Hunt” involving the Banners. Folks were invited to find as many banners as they could, take a selfie in front of the banner and store they loved the best, and submit it with their comments to Main Street for a prize. Please see the comments attached at the end of this post. These are reactions and appreciation of our City we need to nurture far and wide)!*

Now here’s a city that, when the first hint was heard that Covid-19 was creeping loose amidst the populace, closed and locked its doors and summarily withdrew into the recesses of the city’s famous hills and were not seen again physically for maybe two months.

Apparently, it was only after finally determining the city’s many hefty governmental matters needed tending, virus be damned, that they returned, only to find a plague of banners had been detected which was coursing wildly up and down the city’s very streets. The problem was deemed such a serious threat that meetings were held, emails were sent flying, tempers were ignited, and the full brunt of the city’s legal might was brought in to right the situation, and bring those damnable offending banners down. Posthaste.

Then the matter became suddenly, and sadly, very serious. Here, in part, is what the city manager wrote to the Brooksville Vision Foundation after all the exchanges in just the last week or so:

“The sign definition indicates banners are a sign and signs are "used to announce, direct attention to, or otherwise make anything known..." Therefore, by definition, a special event banner is used "to announce, direct attention to, or otherwise make anything known" "in conjunction with a specific event." The Main Street banner contains language that says "Believe in Brooksville" and "Brooksville Main Street." The banner does not announce, direct attention to or make anything known in conjunction with a specific special event; "Believe in Brooksville" and "Brooksville Main Street" is not a specific special event. The banner therefore does not meet the requirements of LDC Section 7-1.4 and placement must be permitted as required by LDC Section 7-1.2.
Remedy
Any individual or entity desiring to keep the banner (s) in question will need to submit a sign permit application with the applicable $75.00 permit fee. Concurrently, the code enforcement process regarding these signs will remain in progress.
Should you have any questions, please contact Community Development.
Best regards,
Mark A. Kutney, AICP, ICMA-CM
City Manager
City of Brooksville”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Albeit as banal and unreasonable as one might think of its current ordinance (per the above), the city has every authority to set standards for displaying banners. Let’s be clear about that because the City Manager has sent an email to Council members suggesting our motives are ill intended. The BVF is not questioning the city’s authority in any way.

What is a little distressing, however, is: 1) The banners were associated with the “Scavenger Hunt.” Is that not an “event”? and, 2) there are other banners around town which have been up for a long time that are most likely not in compliance. So, why the sudden kerfuffle over the banners that some 41 businesses put up to show their pride and faith in the community? Does it look like selective code enforcement? Well, frankly, yes. And that’s our concern. Why are those 41 businesses now being targeted and not others? Or are those other banners somehow “in compliance”? And if they are, how so?

We believe it’s a fair question which should not trigger a fear that it’s some Machiavellian attempt to “challenge the authority of the City to address enforcement matters,” as the City Manager has suggested. Come on, Mark. We just want to find out what’s going on.

And having said all the above, maybe this would be a good time to sit down with the city and representatives from the business community and try to develop greater clarity within the code as to how and when banners may be displayed. From what I’ve seen of the emails, there’s hope all parties may be amenable to getting this needed little thing done.

But just why have we found ourselves in this perplexing situation anyway? Why are Main Street’s efforts to assist the business community seem so at odds at every turn with the very city we’re trying so hard to work with? This is something we as a community need to look more deeply into, don’t you think? With a thriving economy, businesses aren’t the only ones that benefit from a revitalized downtown. Assessed valuations will go up and there will be revenues available for the city to fix the many problems it is struggling to address today on behalf of its residents. A thriving economy will bring increased tax revenues for the city without the aggravation of higher tax rates. All boats are raised. Why aren’t we all working in that direction?

I just do not understand why all this has come down to such an ugly aggravation between the city and the 41 businesses that are so proudly displaying banners with the words “Believe in Brooksville” and “Brooksville Main Street.” Why would a city not see the goodness in the intentions of those who put those banners up; businesses who paid for those banners during some really tough economic times; businesses who are proud of Brooksville and want to believe with all their hearts that this is the place where they want to spend their evenings, make a living and raise their children. What does it say about those who refuse to appreciate just how wonderful it would be if their city could join in this little expression of exuberance in the face of these dangerous times and, instead of threatening fines, say,

Now that’s a great idea! How can we help?”

… stay tuned
The Voice of Brooksville Main Street


Scavenger Hunt Comments - 2020

“We were looking for business we were more familiar with and a lot of them didn’t have the banner, so this was great to find new businesses. My new favorite is Panbanged Knits because I just learned to crochet and need lots of help! Thanks for organizing this, we had lots of fun!” - Bethany and Chris Seitz.

“I chose Easy Street Home Decor as my favorite place because I like all the unique items they sell. It is fun to walk around the shop to browse and a great place to buy that special something that you are looking for or that piece you just can’t live without.” - Suzy Marosi

"We are both new here to Brooksville and ABSOLUTELY love Brooksville. The pics are of my best friend and I. I have been here a year and originally going to move to Tampa after getting a job there. But after being introduced to Brooksville I love it here and now live and work here. This was a GREAT and fun hunt. Thanks to who ever thought of it!" - Virginia Carrillo

Virginia Carrillo took photos not in front of ONE place, but SEVERAL of her favorite places and told us why she loved them. Some of her comments read:
Teal Plank: “Want to try this spot out when it opens again for sure! looks FUN.”
Main Street Eatery: “LOVE to eat here! Great food.”
Thorpe Law Firm: “Never had to use will stay local if had to.”
LaRocca Chiropractic: “Great staff!”
Downtown Loser: “NEED to try them out for sure - heard GREAT reviews”
Patricia’s: “Love the windows!!!!!! Cute clothes”
The Bistro: “Best in TOWN to eat GREAT atmosphere!!!! Great decor inside and GREAT staff!”
Panbanged Knits: “Looks super cute spot to visit”
Easy Street Home Decor: “Super Chic place to find fun things, GREAT staff.”

“Kayla Bagley (me) and my 3 nieces spent the day going around our wonderful city to see all the shops, people, and rain or shine we made it to 25 places and were able to walk and sometimes drive around even to places we didn't think to be there. The best place we love to go is to Transformed Treasures! The owner is very nice and always has candy and her dog is the cutest. We love finding things in there (we just bought a rotary phone for the girls) we never walk out empty handed!! We read the rules wrong and thought we had to take a photo in front of all the shops/places that had the banners and I thought, well we took the photos we might as well share the time we had taking them and showing off all the businesses! We wanted to share our great time we had together and reach the goal of the 25 locations or more. These girls and myself love this city since I've started living here in 2014 from Jacksonville and I got my nieces in 2018 when my sister passed. So things like this bring us together just be spending time with each other ! Thanks again for a great hunt!” - Kay Bailey

“I took a picture in front of The Bistro because it is my favorite restaurant. I love their flatbread pizza.” Lori Mostoufi

“After 2 hours of walking The Mermaid Trail (and more) my boys got over heated so we stopped for fries and a shake at Coney Island. From there we headed back to the car and pursued the last two signs by car but had no luck. After an hour of driving checking from Candlelight to the meat market to Tom Varn my one son got car sick so we headed home. Needless to say we are missing two signs (and about 10 mermaids) but we really enjoyed ourselves and plan to go back to Brooksville very soon. Our favorite stop was the Hernando Park. I had no idea it was there! My husband and I love tennis so we can't wait to use the courts!” - Krystal Magnuson

“I love Teal Plank because it gives me a space to clear my mind and be my creative artistic self that I think I am.” - Jose Morales

“I love Patricia’s Boutique because of all of the pretty dresses that are displayed in the windows. I love driving by and looking at them. It’s always fun when they change. I make sure to take that way home just so I can look at them.” - Skye Breeann

Panbanged Knits is a new business! Hurray for them!” - Marilyn Ryder

“We love Coney Island the most out of all the participants in the "Believe in Brooksville" scavenger hunt because WE LOVE FOOTLONGS! and their customer service is not too shabby either! Thank you for giving us a free, fun event to participate in. The kids had a blast!” - Marybeth Liebenberg, Brantly Homer and Anneli Liebenberg

“I’m so excited that we found 27!! It took several trips downtown for my son, Zechariah (11), and I to find them. But we had a blast looking! I took a selfie at The Bistro because We eat there frequently. I absolutely love the Bistro Cobb salad!”

“Although it is not historical as many of the buildings in Brooksville are, I do know that at one time Pro-Civil was a single-story auto parts store. It was remodeled in 1994 to its present condition. Again, I really did enjoy driving down all the different streets looking for these banners. I hope we can continue some of the many events I have enjoyed with the Main Street Program.” - Beth Garman

“On our girls day we decided to stop in to Transformed Treasures! We had never been inside before even though we have lived here for a few years. When we went inside the store on our antique adventure, we were in love! It has something for everyone! Beautiful pieces fill the store! My favorite thing though, had to be the bowl of toy soldiers that she has out. You may have one for free. She has a sign placed next to it that says please take one as a reminder to pray for our soldiers! I was almost brought to tears. It hit home. The owner is a very sweet lady who greeted us with a warm smile! This is now my favorite store in Brooksville, Florida!!” - Rachel Izor