Hernando County will not host the state's largest American Kennel Club-sanctioned dog show this January.
Because of a legal battle among the kennel club owners, the Florida Classic Clusters Winter Dog Show officials have decided to take their show to Ocala, at the dog show grounds.
But the attorney representing kennel club owners and the owner of the park where the dog show is held are holding out hope the event will return the following year or in the future.
Merchants say the cancellation is disastrous for businesses, motel owners and restaurateurs who say they depend each January on tourism dollars from the show, which annually attracts thousands of tourists to the 50-acre Florida Classic Park on Lockhart Road, near Interstate 75 east of Brooksville.
The problem started when the owners of the Inverness Florida Kennel Club filed a lawsuit against the Florida Classic Park owners, alleging that they misappropriated funds.
Inverness attorney Kevin Dixon, representing the kennel club owners, said that while there may not be a dog show in Hernando County this January, he held out hope that all the legal differences could be resolved and that the annual event could return the following year.
"Some of the regulars that go to the show are upset that they have to drive to Marion County and I don't think (that venue) can handle the numbers," he said.
Dixon said his clients want accountability from the Florida Classic Park owners as to where all the money from past events is going.
In 2009, the show grossed $150,000 and yet the kennel owners received only $9,900 each, he said.
There was a $73,000 discrepancy in bank balances in 2010 and in 2011 there were no proceeds distributions at all, Dixon said.
"The big issue is, where is all the money going?" Dixon asked.
The lawsuit names as defendants Mary Manning-Stolz and Daniel Stolz, who have interests in Florida Classic Park and Florida Classic Clusters LLC.
Daniel Stolz said Friday he is hopeful the dispute is resolved and the dog show returns to its proper venue.
"(I'm) very hopeful," Stolz said.
Stolz calls the lawsuit allegations "totally false" and the kennel clubs are making unreasonable demands.
"Over the last 14 years, our records have been provided to everyone involved on a monthly basis," Stolz said. "Since the suit started, they've demanded other records be provided and we've done that."
Stolz said Marion County dog grounds officials are renting property adjacent to the site to accommodate the larger crowds. But even so, he doesn't believe there will be the same amount of camping space available.
The annual event draws people from all over Florida and the nation and injects some $1 million into the local economy.
"Obviously we're terribly disappointed and it's going to be a huge loss for us economically," said Tammy Heon, the county's tourism coordinator.
It's especially disheartening, she said, that the kennel owners are pulling out after the business community in Hernando County has shown such support of past events.
"I'm very hopeful that once the situation is resolved that all four members of the park ownership team will resolve their issues and everyone will be back at their park, as they should be," Heon said.
Deidre Fletcher, general manager of the I-75 Days Inn, said she will lose about $40,000 from lost bookings and other budgeted items associated with the dog show.
"It's going to be tough, very tough," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the dog show was the largest tourism event of the year and all hotel owners will feel the loss.
Joe Giarratana, owner of Papa Joe's Italian restaurant on Spring Lake Highway, said there are no winners in this, including the kennel owners who will likely end up paying more to put on the show.
"We depend on that kind of business generally but it is what it is," Giarratana said. "There's nothing we can do."
Giarratana said it is too bad all parties in the legal dispute could not come together to resolve the problem.