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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Cannery gets reprieve Will stay open at least through end of year; supporters to draft operational plan


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BROOKSVILLE - The Little Rock Cannery was given a reprieve by county commissioners Tuesday and will be allowed to remain open until January.

But there's a caveat: the supporters of the cannery must get together between now and Jan. 1 to draft a business plan and figure out a way to keep the cannery operational. Until then, the county will fund the facility to the tune of about $15,000.

County Commissioner Diane Rowden will serve as liaison to the board and assist the cannery group as they come up with an operating plan for the facility, located at Citrus Way and U.S. 98, north of Brooksville.

After the unanimous vote, cannery supporters in the audience applauded the decision.

Hernando County's lease with the current cannery operator, Auro Community Cannery Inc., expires at the end of this month.

Staff had drawn up another lease that would have extended it for two years but an attorney representing Auro asked that it be deeded the property for $1.

County Attorney Garth Coller said the county would have to go through the formal bidding process and give others a chance.

Auro decided to end the lease.

Rowden said the county can also use some of the fees that patrons are charged to enter the cannery. Currently, people can buy a year subscription for $50 or pay one-visit $7.50 charge.

"There are ways for us to have the income to help us pay for operations," Rowden said.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said the Little Rock Cannery has been part of Hernando County's history and would hate to see it closed.

Dukes said before Auro took over operations in 2011, the county asked the people who were using the cannery to come up with a business plan to run it themselves.

That never occurred.

Now is the time, he said.

"If they would like to come together with a business plan, I'm sure this board would be glad to listen to it," Dukes said.

What we need is a business plan to move forward on," said Commission Chairman Dave That plan, he said, should delineate the marketing options for the facility, along with future revenue sources.

Russell said the county can help members with that plan and crate something that is beneficial for all involved, including the taxpayers of Hernando County.

Coller said a lease could be worked out with cannery members, who could form a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization.

In the 1940s, the facility was used as a schoolhouse and became a cannery in the mid-1970s.

Commissioners came close to closing the Little Rock Cannery in the past because of budget shortfalls. It survived the budget ax thanks to two $50,000 donations from an anonymous resident who later was revealed to be civic activist Janey Baldwin.

Baldwin died in June 2012.

Assistant county administrator of Budget and Business Development George Zoettlein said it has cost the county less than $60,000 a year when it operated the facility so that amounts to about $15,000 for three months.

"I'm sure with the budget we're putting together we can find a few extra dollars," he said,.

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