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County caters to RV ralliers

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:31 PM

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Hernando County officials Friday presented a four-pronged proposal to the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association in hopes of renewing a lease with the organization and getting them to continue their annual RV rallies at the local airport.

There has been no official reaction from the FMCA. However, Ralph Marino, vice president of the organization's southeast area, said this week negotiations will continue with Hernando County.

Marino said one thing is sure — conditions must change because the annual rally held on a closed runway of the airport is not making money.

When the rally attracted 3,000 or more motor coaches, it was fine, Marino said. But when expenditures exceed revenue, it's clear something must change, he said.

This latest proposal includes the following terms which, if acceptable to the FMCA, would be included in a long-term license and land lease agreement:

There will be no charge for additional coaches should attendance exceed 700, which would provide an annual savings of $3,700 or more over the current agreement.

The airport will then market the facility for lease.

"Within our lease negotiations, the airport will diligently negotiate to secure the use of the 20,000-square-foot hangar for the use during the FMCA rally from the new lessee at a rental rate of $20,000," the proposal said.

Use of the facility would cut down significantly on the FMCA's rental of tents during the rally.

Business Development Director Mike McHugh said the airport has frozen rents for tenants on-site to help them during tough times, and it is willing to accommodate the rally organizers as they navigate through these hard times.

"(The proposal) is an earnest effort for us to send a message to the motor coach rally that we really appreciate their contributions to our community," McHugh said.

McHugh said he wants to continue the long-term relationship.

"They've been here for 15 years, and we'd love to have them for another 15 years," he said.

Volusia County has already made overtures to FMCA officials about moving the rally to that area.

Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut said he believes Hernando County can work out an amicable agreement and get them to continue holding their annual RV rallies at the local airport.

Schraut said he is an avid RVer himself and understands Marino's financial predicament. An aging membership, declining rally participation and high gas prices all are contributing to the problem, he said.

The FMCA formerly had the use of an existing building to house vendors and shows during the rally. But now it is forced to erect tents, which costs some $80,000, according to Conrad Kleinpeter, an FMCA regional vice president.

Schraut said he hopes to have an answer soon with FMCA organizers so plans can move forward. The rally, he said, is vital to the local economy and pumps in about $3 million.

"We want them to stay, and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that happens," Schraut said.

Meanwhile, Blair Hensley, who runs the Coney Island Drive-Inn in Brooksville, said he would hate to see the rally discontinued because local restaurateurs notice bigger crowds when RVers arrive.

Hensley hasn't charted the sales increase but knows it is sizable.

"When they come, you know they're here for sure," he said. "You see them around town." (352) 544-5290

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