by KATHRYN DENTATO
Hernando Sun Reporter
In a tight 3-2 vote on Aug. 26, 2019, Brooksville City Council voted to keep $46,000 in the budget for the Brooksville Main Street program. Council members will require monthly profit and loss statements as well as quarterly presentations to council. However, the funding committment from council won’t be solidified until after the September budget hearings.
This decision comes after Brooksville Main Street’s presentation to city council on Aug. 12, 2019, when Mayor Bill Kemerer invited Cliff Manuel of Brooksville Vision Foundation to discuss the Main Street Program. Executive Director Natalie Kahler could not present to council due to concern that she would be running afoul of a Florida Statute and city ordinance.
Section 112.313(14), Florida Statutes provides that “[a] person who has been elected to any county, municipal, special district, or school district office may not personally represent another person or entity for compensation before the government body or agency of which the person was an officer for a period of 2 years after vacating that office. For purposes of this subsection … ( c) The “government body or agency” of an elected municipal officer consists of the governing body of the municipality, the chief administrative officer or employee of the municipality, and their immediate support staff.” “
Overview of Brooksville Main Street
Manuel began with a brief explanation of the way Brooksville’s Main Street began. The state and national Main Street programs have guidelines that have worked in more than a thousand communities across the nation.
One of the most important recommendations for a successful Main Street program is the position of Executive Director who will oversee the implementation of plans. Four essential committees are also needed, Manuel said. They are: Design (Chair: Jo-Anne Peck), Economic Vitality (Chair: Jennifer Rey), Promotion (Chair: Barbara Manuel), and Organization (Chair: Mike Dolan).
The Main Street Program is the equivalent of the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency. It operates as a DBA (doing business as) and has the same governing board as the Brooksville Vision Foundation. There are 41 volunteers. Two paid employees, the Executive Director (Natalie Kahler) and the Marketing/Event employee (Tina Marie Polson), are funded through the 501(c)3, Manuel said.
At the beginning (2017) there was no Executive Director. Manuel requested funding from the City, County, and private sources to pay a salary for an Executive Director and begin to plan events like the Blueberry Festival.
Marketing includes a social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. Manuel said that there is also targeted advertising to active seniors, millennials, baby boomers, and to snowbirds through various print and digital outlets in West Central Florida and in New York.
The Promotions Committee’s list of monthly or annual events are popular, and some are in coordination with other individuals or organizations. Manuel said the Brooksville Vision Foundation and Main Street Program are not in competition with others who want to organize events.
If help is needed or desired, the Main Street Program is willing to partner with others so an event can be successful. It benefits the community, and that is the goal. Volunteers work with the Main Street Program for the City, not for themselves, Manuel said.
Pointing to new events that are examples of partnerships, Manuel highlighted the Tangerine Drop (coordinating with the City) and the Farm to Fork Fondo (with Hernando Growers Association and Bicycle Tourism). The slide shown also included: 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, Christmas Stroll, Art Stroll and the Main Street Fundraiser.
Manuel then introduced Jo-Anne Peck, Chair of the Design Committee and Jennifer Rey, Chair of the Economic Vitality Committee and invited them to share the goals of their committees and progress in the past three years.
Following their presentations, Manuel shared multiple benefits the City receives from a strong Main Street Program. It should eventually become an information resource for the Council. Main Street Programs take time to develop and strengthen, and the cooperation between volunteers, private and public sectors is vital. Manuel said he would like to continue working with the City and its investment.
Each of the council members present asked questions of Manuel. (Vice Mayor Joe Bernardini was not present.)
Pat Brayton discussed the budget, asking for the detailed Profit/Loss financial statement for 2019 to date. The Main Street Program’s stated funding sources were to be 1/3 from public sources, 1/3 from private sources, and 1/3 from events, he said. Brayton expressed concerns that the figures show a $272,000 deficit and excess payroll taxes paid.
Manuel replied that when public money is used, the entity has a responsibility to be accountable. He said nothing was misrepresented intentionally and offered to return with clarification of any line item the council members requested.
“We want to be transparent and accountable to the city fathers who have benefited us with the gift to get our Main Street Program started,” Manuel said.
The “1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3” division of funding is not possible in the first year or even in the first several years, he said. That is the goal, not the starting point. The private sector investment is increasing.
It is important for the City to support the Main Street Program before the County or other sources are approached for financial assistance. If the City does not support it, then there is no incentive for anyone else to.
However, Manuel has asked the County for their contribution. The County is expected to provide in-kind space and participation rather than cash.
If the City agrees to continue funding, Brayton will require full quarterly financial statements from Brooksville Main Street.
Accomplishments of Brooksville Vision Foundation
Betty Erhard asked Manuel about the Brooksville Vision Foundation and its accomplishments. The first project, he said, was the 2050 comprehensive plan overlay that was completed with the City Planning Department and approved by the City Council.
The second project was to change the one-way pairs. The expansion of State Road 50 has delayed any work on the one-way pairs, but Manuel said continued discussions with DOT could route US 98 out of the city.
The Brooksville Vision Foundation also worked with Senator Wilton Simpson, DOT and the Coast to Coast Trail to ensure it came through Brooksville and not along the truck bypass.
They also researched and approached the State of Florida for guidance on the Main Street Program to bring growth and job creation and make the downtown area more vibrant.
Erhard asked if Brooksville Main Street was placed under Brooksville Vision Foundation in order to avoid having to disclose financials, which Manuel denied. Any time public sector funds are involved, he said, disclosure is necessary.
Erhard appeared unconvinced, saying that since April, the delays that Brooksville Main Street had in meeting with the council and providing documentation “reeks of the Florida Blueberry Festival.” Manuel acknowledged that there were issues in April with the previous Executive Director, who resigned, but there was no intention to misrepresent anything to the council members.
Since April, a new Executive Director was hired, relationships within the organization were restored, and financials were recovered and prepared for Council as requested. He offered to return with any clarification the Council needs. The funds, he said, are being reinvested in Brooksville.
Erhard said the presentation was nice, but she prefers action and in three years has not seen much progress. What has been seen (the Friday Night Live, the Christmas tree lighting), could have been done by the City, she said.
State of Florida and National Main Street guidelines require public and private partnership to be successful. Infrastructure needs depend on a strong tax base to pay for it and the Main Street Programs work toward that goal of new growth, job creation and having a vibrant economy.
The only truly successful Main Street Programs, Manuel said, have a public-private partnership. If the City chooses not to continue funding, then private sector money will also begin to disappear.
Erhard asked what Natalie Kahler, the new Executive Director, will accomplish since she is not allowed to lobby for two years after holding a city council seat. Either Manuel or another Board member will be addressing the Council. (Kahler resigned in June 2018 to run for county commissioner, so she will be able to address council again by June 2020.)
Kahler’s connections in the community are strong. She will be reaching out to the private sector investors, Manuel said. The previous Executive Director had strengths in promotions and historic preservation.
Robert Battista asked about investment partners and grants. Manuel said growing the grant funding is one of their goals. Battista would like to see a bigger commitment from the investment partners. Manuel agreed, and was disappointed at the level of private investment.
Battista referred to the Florida Blueberry Festival and the perception that it would improve the visitor traffic to the downtown area. Events are not enough. New retail businesses are needed, he said.
Manuel described the change as “professional creep,” where professional services replaced the stores that moved further down US 41. Battista said the limited inventory will prevent the program from achieving the “critical mass” of the desired development. Using the examples of Leesburg and Dade City, Manuel said it will take time, and can be done. But only if they persist.
Mayor Kemerer asked about the 2019 budget. Manuel said it was a combination of the actual records the previous Executive Director, Ryan Malloy, had started as well as projecting the budget for the remainder of the year. The quarterly financials are being updated.
Kemerer reviewed the 2019 projections. He considered grant money as additional public sources. From 2017 Kemerer said 76% of the budget then came from public funds. In 2018, it was 63%. In 2019, only 33% is public sector money. Events now bring in 45% of the budget.
Everyone sees the events that the Promotions Committee organizes, Kemerer said. The behind-the-scenes work done by the Design and Economic Vitality Committees is even more important because it will drive the success of the program. For the $150,000 investment, Kemerer said Brooksville Main Street has done a lot in three years.
The City’s CRA is approaching the same goal of redeveloping the downtown area from a fiscal standpoint. Kemerer would like to see collaboration between the two groups.
If the City does commit to additional funding, Kemerer agreed with Brayton that quarterly statements should be required. Since the money is released every quarter, Brooksville Main Street would receive the check once the statements were presented.
Prior to the Aug. 26 meeting, Brooksville Main Street provided financial reports to the city.
Brooksville Main Street’s 2019 Profit and Loss statement shows a total income of $76,176.49 for January through June.
Included in this number:
• City government revenue of $25,500,
• Promotions Event Revenue
• Investment Partners: $11,600.
Expenditures total $95,765.00
Included in this number:
• Salaries – Employees: $41,408.36
• Promotions & Event Expenses: $37,171.65
• Administrative Expenses: $12,441.87
Net Ordinary Income -19,588.51
Net Income -17,391.51
July – Dec. 2019 Budget shows
Total Revenue: $123,026.39
Total Expenditures: $123,026.39
Presentation from Jo-Anne Peck, Brooksville Main Street Design Committee Chair
Jo-Anne Peck explained the Design Committee’s purpose: to make downtown look lively and inviting for visitors and investors, even if currently there are vacant storefronts. The committee assessed the buildings and approached the needed changes in two ways: what could be done quickly to improve aesthetics, and what needed a long-term plan. Working with the Economic Vitality Committee, the Design Committee can create a virtual streetscape to encourage private sector investors.
Peck said they have approached several building owners about potential projects or uses for the building spaces. There has been little “buy in” until recently, she said, but it has begun to improve. She said two business owners asked the committee for suggestions to improve curb appeal. Over the last few months there has been an increase, she said.
One area that can be utilized is storefront windows, even for non-retail businesses. With permission, a local business could have in the windows, the address of the retail store or local artists could be featured. The idea is to keep visitors interested and to keep them walking. It’s about creating the perception that something is happening, that Brooksville is an interesting place to visit.
Second floor space is unused. A simple fix is to add curtains which could pique interest into converting second floors into apartments. To utilize small spaces, Peck suggested pop-up shops. Planters placed along parking lots will continue the line visually, so visitors walk to the businesses on the other side.
Presentation from Jennifer Rey, Brooksville Main Street Economic Vitality Committee Chair
Jennifer Rey explained the Economic Vitality Committee. Unlike the Promotions Committee, with events everyone can see and enjoy, the Economic Vitality Committee is largely unseen. It is data driven and is designed to provide an understanding of the current economic conditions and what opportunities are possible with long term investment and reinvestment.
Economic Vitality works with the Design Committee so that the plan or vision of what Main Street should be, can be implemented. Brooksville provides tax incentives to businesses in targeted industries, Rey said, but they are not the businesses needed for the Main Street program, she added.
Finding tax incentives for other businesses is necessary. Many businesses downtown are professional services (attorney, accountant), and there is little variety. Diversity is an important component of having a successful Main Street district, she said.
One plan for increasing activity downtown is to make an indoor, permanent Market on Main Street. Another element is the business incubator, working with entrepreneurs to create and strengthen new businesses.
The aesthetics of Infrastructure is also an element to consider, Rey said, with a need to upgrade utilities and bury power lines. The one-way pairs going through the heart of downtown creates a challenge. So does the geography, with Main Street at the top of one of the many hills in Brooksville. Events at the parks are also considered, including upgrades.
As the City Council is considering the budget, Rey said there are two ways to increase revenues: increase taxes or increase the City’s ad valorem tax base. Growing the ad valorem tax base is the primary goal of the Economic Vitality Committee.
A second goal is to make Main Street economically strong and increase occupancy with business diversity. Working to keep the small businesses, incubate new businesses, and recruit others to the downtown area will reduce the number of empty buildings.
Citizen Input on Brooksville Main Street 08.12.2019
Pam Everett – said Destination Brooksville could take over the events at no cost to the City/County. Said there is no real collaboration with Brooksville Main Street. (example: Christmas Stroll, said she doesn’t know anything about it)
Donna Morin – thinks Brooksville Main Street is a good program but said they should be standing on their own and should not receive more funds. Wanted to know how council members would vote.
Jonathan Stone – says the numbers in the Brooksville Main Street budget are inaccurate. The information on social media and the website are different from what was presented.
Mike Dolan – Brookville does not have anyone dedicated to economic development or tourism department. Brooksville Main Street will be able to make the vision a reality.
The opportunities are there and only need vision and leadership to make them happen.
Michael Burman – Brooksville Vision Foundation is like the movie Field of Dreams (“If we build it, they will come”) but it doesn’t work in real life. The existing businesses need to be helped to be more successful and that will draw other businesses to the area. Said Christmas in July was a great event, not promoted by Brooksville Main Street. Wants to give them 6 months to show what they can do.
Leigh Gollanello – Promotions/Events is one committee. The other committees are what will change and improve Brooksville. More businesses are needed, especially more retail. Said there were problems with previous director and finances, but Destination Brooksville can help by populating events. We all want the same thing ultimately, she said, and they need to head in the same direction. It’s not a short-term project.
Catherine Reeves – events do help businesses and can bring repeat customers. Has talked to other small business owners in different small cities and was told it took businesses working together. If the downtown area looks bad, property values will go down.
Sonny Vergara – supports Destination Brooksville as well as Brooksville Main Street. Was concerned with Battista’s attitude that “doing nothing” might be the solution. Florida is the 3rd fastest growing state (1,000 people daily, approx.). The I-4 corridor is expanding, he said, and Pasco County is the proof. Hernando County will be next and keeping the charm of Brooksville is necessary.
Letter from Lori Sowers (read into the record by Erhard) – expressed concern about Kahler’s participation in Brooksville Main Street. Was not in support of continuing funding.
WHAT IS FLORIDA MAIN STREET?
“Florida Main Street is a technical assistance program with the goal of revitalizing historic downtowns and encouraging economic development within the context of historic preservation.
“Since 1985, Florida Main Street has offered technical assistance to Main Street programs across the state. The program is a part of a network of over 40 nationally recognized programs throughout the country. Florida Main Street is administered by Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State. The program is affiliated with the National Main Street Center and utilizes the National Main Street Center’s Four-Point Approach® which offers a framework for community-based revitalization initiatives.”
– Florida Dept. of State
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