BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he visited the winter dog show at Florida Classic Park east of Brooksville last week and was impressed by the crowds lining up to see canines and their handlers from throughout the nation take part in the annual event.
The show was canceled last year because of a legal dispute, and there was talk of it moving to Marion County.
Nicholson said he doesn't want to see the same thing happen to the annual Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally held each year at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
Hernando came close to losing that event as well, and Nicholson said he wants the county to move forward with the same diligence it took to save the dog show.
"I don't want to lose the RVs coming to the airport, and we almost lost them last year," Nicholson said. "I don't believe it's too soon to look into what our policy is for charging these people to come to the airport, because I don't want them to leave after this year."
Nicholson asked County Administrator Len Sossamon and his staff to look into the matter.
"I would like us to work now on what it would take to keep them here, because obviously we're in competition with at least one other county that wants them to move," he said. "I want them to stay here because it's a great benefit to our county."
The FMCA board of directors had considered moving to another county because of rising costs. One of those sites was Volusia County, where officials have expressed an interest in hosting the rally at its fairgrounds.
But the FMCA agreed to extend the lease and license agreement to hold the rally at the airport facilities. The 16th annual event will take place Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 on a converted runway at the airport.
Jim Duncan, president of the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association, said Friday he would love to stay in Brooksville, but it will come down to getting a permanent facility to stage the rally. The cost of setting up tents has become too high, and FMCA is losing money, he said.
It costs $75,000 to $80,000 to put up tents for about five days, and that's too much, he said.
"It's a nice community," Duncan said of Hernando County. "Everybody's cordial and nice to us. It's just a few things we have to work out. It costs a lot to come out there and put tents up. That's the biggest issue we have."
The FMCA board of directors will meet Jan 28 and decide whether to leave Brooksville for another venue or to stay.
"We need someone to listen to us," he said. "We have to have permanent facilities."
The annual RV rally is one of the largest tourism events in Hernando, pumping millions of dollars into the economy. But rally organizers have been losing money due to a falloff of members, the bad economy and escalating costs of staging the event.
For example, about 1,200 motor coaches participated in the rally in 2012. Last year that number was about 800, and organizers expected a loss of almost $30,000.
Gary Schraut, chairman of the Aviation Authority, said Friday it will be up to FMCA officials to decide if they want to stay here. In the end, it comes down to economics, he said.
"The airport and the county commission can do everything they can to try and help these folks," Schraut said. "I think everyone agrees with Commissioner Nicholson that we want to keep them here. But it's going to be pure economics for them. I don't think there's anything else driving this."
Schraut said he plans to meet with the motor coach officials during and after the upcoming rally.
"I think they want to stay here, but they have to be able to afford to do these type rallies," Schraut said.
The agreement hammered out for the one-year lease contains money-saving options, the biggest of which was a reduction in the license fee from an annual flat rate of $6,500 to $4 per motor coach.
That charge was capped at 700 coaches with a maximum fee of $2,800.
There will be no charge this year for additional coaches should attendance exceed 700, which is expected to save the FMCA some $3,700 or more.
The airport also agreed this year to assume responsibility for mowing and maintenance of the rally area. That likely will reduce FMCA's costs in property maintenance and equipment by about $8,000.