by KATHRYN DENTATO
Hernando Sun Writer
A promotional website has been created, http://visitrockridgetrail.com, which features nearby areas with a historical link to phosphate mining, accessible by bike through the Withlacoochee State Trail and Good Neighbor Trail. Historic places, activities and natural areas of Brooksville, Dunnellon, Inverness and Floral City are featured in an online map. A blog to showcase local businesses is planned. Representatives from the City of Inverness spoke to the Brooksville City Council on the possibilities for joint marketing.
Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni stated that the goal is to create interest in bringing together communities with a common marketing theme. He mentioned the Good Neighbor Trail and the Withlacoochee Trail and the excitement that is evident in Brooksville.
DiGiovanni stated this idea began in 2013 with the goal of making Inverness more than a destination for day-trip visitors, to make it a multi-day event for families and cyclists who enjoy nature, good food and history.
“It (phosphate mining) came and went quickly, but we were able to preserve where we are and who we are because it was a railroad track.” The track was removed and paved, and now there is the 46-mile-long nature trail. Other drawing points include antique shops, family owned (not chain) restaurants and places of interest in each town from Brooksville up to Dunnellon. DiGiovanni maintains that if there is a way to market the area to encourage people to stay for several days up and down the line, it can “generate a pulse…some excitement.” While this is not the only way, it is one way to pull people into the community, he said. This will be a benefit to small business which relies on the influx of new and repeat customers.
Elizabeth (Liz) Fernley, Inverness City Marketing Director, stated her involvement in the project began in 2016 with discussions with the cities of Brooksville, Floral City and Dunnellon to describe what made each city unique and their synergy with one another. A Visit Florida grant allowed them to design a website and brochure. They noticed that there were many more things that connected the four cities than they realized.
The project has reached the second phase, where they will revise and refine the maps and points of interest. Bloggers on the website use social media to highlight businesses to be featured. The website is ready to launch, DiGiovanni said, and Brooksville businesses have been interviewed and are excited.
Since Brooksville is relatively new to the Withlacoochee trail, the city can expect to continue to see a steady increase in the downtown area. Cyclists will ride 30-40 miles a day as a warmup, he said, and with Brooksville only a few miles off the trail, the city is close enough to draw even more visitors. Showcasing Brooksville’s architecture, history and businesses will bring repeat visitors especially as they are connected to the other cities along the trail. And not just cyclists, but families who will come back again and again. “It becomes a tourism market,” DiGiovanni said.
After sharing a portion of a video blog about a new restaurant in Inverness, DiGiovanni recommended that the council review the information and consider working with Ferney and her office to showcase Brooksville and which events, activities and businesses to market. Inverness has matched the $5,000 grant from Visit Florida to provide staff and manage the website. If Brooksville decides to participate, the cost would be less than $5,000, DiGiovanni said.
Several members of the Inverness City Council and staff were in attendance. DiGiovanni said that they take cycling very seriously and the trail links both Brooksville and Inverness. The idea is to link the cities into a community that would benefit all of them.
Battista spoke highly of DiGiovanni and his vision for Inverness. As the City Manager for nearly 30 years, DiGiovanni has helped Inverness grow and prosper. Battista recalled a meeting in 2016 in which DiGiovanni laid out a plan for Inverness to make them a destination that visitors will want to return to multiple times. Now, demolition has begun on the next phase.
“We’ve got a gem,” DiGiovanni said. “Let’s work together and prosper.” Acknowledging that a city council meeting was not the place to discuss the details, he suggested that the council direct staff to work with Inverness staff. To finalize the brochure and website, DiGiovanni requested that Brooksville provide input as they would like to begin distribution in about 12 months.
Kemerer made a motion to direct staff to begin aggressively working with DiGiovanni’s staff. Bernardini seconded the motion, and it passed 4-0.