Friday, Aug 29, 2014

Steep price tag may put RV rally out of reach


BROOKSVILLE - The cost of luring the RVers back to Brooksville after 16 years of rallies appears to be insurmountable and not only from a financial standpoint.

A list of demands submitted by Jim Duncan, president of the Southeast Area Motor Coach Association, would require wholesale infrastructure changes to parts of the airport, a possible re-working of the airport's master plan and a zoning modification, according to the county administrator.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the FMCA's demands would cost millions and Hernando County is in no position to spend that much.

It is especially unlikely, he said, when the buildings asked for by the association would only be used for about one week out of the year.

"We don't have that much money," Dukes said.

County Administrator Len Sossamon said he did a rough estimate on how much the utility and infrastructure would cost after reviewing Duncan's demands and came up with $7-8 million.

And that doesn't include an estimated $3 million more for one of the two buildings requested, he said.

Sossamon said he asked staff to prepare a cost analysis based on Duncan's demands and will place the matter on an upcoming county commission meeting agenda.

But this goes beyond the financial side of the equation. Given the scope of what the FMCA president is asking, it would likely require a rezoning of the property and a re-work of the master plan of the airport because it would not be consistent with the tenants and uses of the technology center.

"Do we really want to convert it into a motor coach park?" Sossamon asked. "That's just another question the board will have to answer."

It would likely require dipping into general fund and tourism development money to pay for, he said.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he will consider the proposal when brought before the board. But when it comes to spending up to $10 million, "we can't go that far," he said.

"It's a lot of money," Adkins said. "It's too much money."

The FMCA board of directors in January voted 46-0 not to sign a new lease with the airport. Instead, the board announced it has signed a tentative agreement with Sarasota to hold the annual rally at an inside venue.

In the end, it came down to money and a lack of enclosed buildings at the airport that required the purchase of costly tents.

"We just cannot afford to keep putting money in these tents," according to Duncan. "We need to have permanent structures to put this rally on."

Duncan outlined in an email to the county administrator what it would take for his board to discuss returning to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport for the annual RV rally.

Topping the list of demands is a permanent building that would seat 2,000 to 3,000 people for entertainment events and another building for use by vendors and workshops/seminars. The vendor building has to be big enough for 300 people and include 10-foot by 10-foot spaces with electricity hook-ups.

Other demands include:

??Accommodations for 1,000 or more motor coaches with spaces allowing 25 feet by 50 feet per site

??At least half of those sites, or 500 of them, would need hook-ups for sewer and water

??At least four dump stations for dry campers who require water hook-ups.

??Improved access to the airport without planes would be a plus.

"If you were able to provide the above, not only would FMCA grace your area but many others as well," Duncan wrote. "I know many are always looking for places to hold rallies and you would probably be turning away people if these facilities were available."

For example, Duncan said Sarasota hosts several rallies at their facility and also holds a fair on the grounds "which might be something that you would want to consider," he said.

"We have enjoyed coming to Brooksville, some of us for as many as 16 years, and we hope to return to your area in the future," Duncan wrote.

The annual RV rally is one of the largest tourism events in Hernando County which, during its height, injected up to $10 million into the economy, according to earlier reports from the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.

But rally organizers have been losing money due to a decrease in membership, the bad economy and the escalating costs of putting on the event.

Sarasota and other counties had been making overtures to FMCA officials about moving the rally to their areas.

Conrad Kleinpeter, an FMCA regional vice president, said this year's rally stood to lose $40,000, even after the FMCA had cut the amount paid for temporary tents from $120,000 to $70,000.

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