OLDSMAR — Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly came to Oldsmar from Clearwater in 2017 with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning and a long list of accolades and accomplishments on her resume, including a recent stint as president of the Florida Recreation and Parks Association.
Being a longtime public servant, Donnelly believes her work should speak for itself, and she’s adept at deflecting attention and credit to city staff and colleagues.
But the former Leisure Services director became the center of attention after Donnelly created a program that allows local leaders to calculate the value of parks and recreation facilities and events to their communities.
“In 2008, I taught a class for FRPA about a do-it-yourself economic impact analysis and I was convinced I could teach people how to calculate the impact of special events in their community,” she said recently. “And I realized that was only one aspect and I realized no one was going to do it themselves.”
After putting it on the back burner, Donnelly eventually revisited her idea while she was serving as chairperson of the Dunedin Art Harvest several years ago.
“I found an online calculator to input data to show the value of an art festival to a community to the Chamber of Commerce officials,” she said, noting the criteria included things like population, expenses and attendance. “I wanted to show the impact with all the events, so I started mapping how parks and rec affect all aspects of the community. Historically, parks and rec have only had value for exercise or observing native species and other vague stuff. But I wanted to know how to quantify it.”
After securing the funding through FRPA, Donnelly worked with a steering committee that combed through more than 150 research papers with an eye toward “finding something that worked.”
The result was the FRPA Impact Calculator, an easy-to-use yet comprehensive tool that is free for any municipality in the country to use.
“I wanted to do something turnkey,” Donnelly said. “It was really important that it’s easy to use, so we gave instructions of what to enter every step of the way. For example, when you hit ‘calculate’ it tells you what the approximate property tax value is of nearby homes because of their proximity to a park, or the health savings or other crucial criteria.” She noted users are able to present the results in PDF form as well as a PowerPoint presentation with pictures and graphics, “because we thought the data deserved a professional presentation.”
Donnelly said the impact calculator has been well received in the industry since it was unveiled at the FRPA banquet last year.
“It’s amazing,” she said of the response. “I’ve heard this is a game changer and today we have over 220 users and we’re continuing to teach people how to use it. We’re the first ones in the U.S. doing something like this. Period. In fact, two other states have expressed interest in developing one based off our template. So, I’m elated.”
Though she was quick to state she had a lot of help creating it, Donnelly did admit “it was my idea.”
Her idea, as well as her value to Oldsmar, has not been lost on city leaders.
“I’m happy our Assistant City Manager’s work-product is being utilized,” Mayor Eric Seidel said via email. “Felicia is a wealth of knowledge, and her ability to bottle some of that knowledge and turn it into a usable product for others is impressive. The City of Oldsmar is lucky to have Felicia as our Assistant City Manager, as she continues to make a difference in our community and now will be able to impact many others.”
With the impact calculator finally off her plate, Donnelly said she’s not sure what she wants to pursue next.
“I may never have another good idea!” she joked before adding, “I deeply care about the fabric of our community and the impact government services have on making our community a better place to live and thrive. So, it’s a great accomplishment but there’s more I’d like to do. I don’t know what’s next because this idea came to me because of my experience, so I don’t know what experiences I’m having today will have a value to the community tomorrow.”
And while she’s had several opportunities to jump to a cushy, more lucrative position in the private sector, the New Orleans native said she feels completely at home in Oldsmar.
“One thing that attracted me to Oldsmar was the progressive attitude,” she said. “I like that it’s an innovative community, and that 40% of the land is open space. I’ve had some pretty lucrative offers, but I’m focused on the future and looking at every process in the city to better serve the constituents.”