My city grapples with its vision
See that nondescript building photo with today’s blog? That’s what the Inverness City Council elections are all about.
Here we go:
For years and years, Courthouse Square was the hub of activity in Inverness. When the state rerouted Main Street from in front of the Masonic Building to behind it, the city developed its downtown into a beautiful, cozy and quaint shopping, eating, strolling historic district.
In time, Frank DiGiovanni became manager and that man’s vision for the city really took off. His biggest plum was the Depot District: a $10.5 million revitalization of the city’s two lakefront parks, restore the historic train station, build an open-air pavilion, add a visitor’s center and city garden.
That’s what we have today. The Depot is an extraordinary feat that attracts families of all ages. The twice-a-month farmer’s market is a growing success. More groups are using it for their events, such as the chamber’s business expo a few weeks ago. Both parks attract users daily.
So why are we talking about a nondescript vendor building amongst all this impressive city achievement?
It’s this: For all the beauty of the park and district, its creation is not exactly how you want local government to run.
Before I go further, three important points:
—This is not a criticism of DiGiovanni. Without his vision, we wouldn’t have a Depot District to discuss.
—This is not criticism of the city council, those in office now or those who previously served. I don’t like Monday morning quarterbacking. Elected officials deal with what’s in front of them at the time.
— That said, the Depot District is definitely fair game as a campaign issue. Incumbents Dave Ryan and Mayor Bob Plaisted naturally can take part in its success; challengers Crystal Lizanich (vs Ryan) and Max Schulman (vs Plaisted) no doubt have their views as well.
Depot District was the city manager’s passion. DiGiovanni had a gift for seeing what the rest of us couldn’t see. When he unveiled the plans at a city council meeting, everyone was struck in awe. Public and elected officials alike.
And, so, off the project went. When it opened in November 2019, the Depot District was an incredible site in Inverness. I’ve lived here over half my life and I was truly impressed at what DiGiovanni had done.
See what I did there? Therein lies the rub.
The city council took part in the vision by approving it, but never really bore into the details. The council was less a partner in the plan than a formality.
The day of the grand opening, I was walking with a council member between Liberty and Wallace Brooks parks, who said to me: “It’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
That from someone who voted for this stuff.
Since then there have been numerous costly repairs needed because it wasn’t all done right the first time. You’ve heard about the recently opened Train Station Cafe — that came about because of nearly $600,000 spent on needed repairs, plumbing and electrical to make the building functional. Both the city and tenant contributed to that cost.
The open-air Depot is enormously successful, but first the city spent tens of thousands of dollars on fans and lighting.
And that brings me to the building in our photo. It sits at Wallace Brooks, near the pier, empty. The thinking by the prior manager was it would be leased by someone renting kayaks. Certainly logical, but never came to be.
Now the city has someone interested in doing something similar. First the city needs to spend up to $10,000 in repairs because the building isn’t usable. There are high hopes that this cost will pay huge dividends when someone leases the building.
Council members and City Manager Eric Williams are overseeing someone else’s vision, and they’re trying to piece it together in an exciting and forward-thinking way without breaking the bank. Discussion the other night was on point. I like their approach.
This is where you fit in: The Chronicle has a candidate forum this Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Valerie Theater. It only features council/mayor candidates. This is the best opportunity to hear from the two incumbents and two challengers.
The Depot District was a game changing addition to Inverness. Vision made it happen. Vision will take it further.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.