BROOKSVILLE — Just a few months ago, supporters of the historic Chinsegut Hill Manor House almost felt like throwing in the towel.
Turned down by agency after agency in their quest to keep the 165-year-old landmark and its picturesque grounds from being "surplussed" — or sold to a private buyer — the nonprofit Friends of Chinsegut Hill made a last ditch pitch to the Hernando County Commission. It asked the commission to underwrite a plan to lease the facility from the state and keep it in public hands.
When commissioners gave the go-ahead in January for economic development manager Mike McHugh to negotiate a lease with state, things began to turn around.
Public support for the facility blossomed. Local and regional preservation groups pledged to donate money and raise more in the future. And last week, Friends learned that the 2013-14 budget proposed by state lawmakers includes $1.5 million to help restore the antebellum plantation house.
"We're on the home stretch right now," said Friends member Christie Anderberg, who three years ago helped spearhead the move to save the manor house. "It looks as if we're going to finally get this done."
For now, Anderberg's biggest concern is securing the county's lease before the state's June 1 deadline. At the same time, she is rallying support to encourage Gov. Rick Scott to keep the money for Chinsegut in the budget.
"I sent out about 100 emails last week asking people who love Chinsegut to help us out by writing Gov. Scott," Anderberg said. "That money will go a long way to solving a lot of issues with the house."
McHugh said on Tuesday that he and his staff are putting the final touches on a five-year lease agreement that he will present to county commissioners on May 21. It will name Friends of Chinsegut Hill as the tenant of the house and its surrounding 114-acre preserve. McHugh said he expects the commission to approve the plan.
"A lot of people have worked hard to make this all come about," McHugh said. "This is an important asset for the county, and it makes sense to do what we can to keep it open and available to the public."
Anderberg said that Friends is continuing to move forward with plans to bring the historic landmark up to a standard where it can be made marketable as an environmental education center and tourist destination. A $14,000 structural evaluation by Preservation Resource of Brooksville that was paid for by the Friends revealed minor problems with the building's foundation. Fixing them would cost about $20,000, Anderberg said.
Meanwhile, the group is continuing to raise money to match a $50,000 challenge grant it was recently awarded by the Felburn Foundation. The effort so far has netted about $11,000.
Anderberg said that once the lease is signed, her group plans to hold some events on the grounds of the facility, which has been closed to the public for two years.
"We're very anxious for people to be able to come out and see what a beautiful place it is," Anderberg said.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.