BROOKSVILLE — For the past 15 years, the Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport has served as a roost for the Family Motor Coach Association's annual Southeast Area rally.
The wintertime event, which attracts upward of 1,000 well-to-do recreational vehicle owners from all over the South, has been a welcome boon to Hernando County's economy, with visitors packing restaurants, grocery stores and local attractions during their weeklong stay.
But the good times may well be over once the parade of RVs heads out of town after next week's rally. Some members of the organization's current regional board have decided it might be time to move the event to another location.
Southeast chapter president Ralph Marino said that although a final decision has not yet been made, the question of staying in Brooksville comes down to economics.
"Our attendance is decreasing and our costs keep going up. It's as simple as that," Marino said. "Right now, nothing has been decided, but we're looking at other options."
Word of the possible pullout — and that the county might favor the rally's departure — filtered out to local government officials in recent days, and a meeting was scheduled with FMCA Southeast committee members Tuesday. Airport manager Don Silvernell said that he and County Commission Chairman Dave Russell wanted to know what could be done to keep the group in Hernando County.
"Part of it is that the facilities are not what they want to be in. The tents they put up do not function properly for their events," Silvernell said.
Russell said that the lack of a permanent building large enough for activities such as meetings and entertainment has forced the group to spend thousands of dollars on temporary tents in order to accommodate its social activities.
The motor coach group once had use of a hangar at the airport, but that no longer is the case.
When asked whether some members of the organization simply wanted to try a new location for the rally, Russell said, "they made it clear that most of them like Brooksville and they want to stay here.''
Russell said that committee members have already spoken to representatives of a venue in Volusia County as a possible location for next year's rally.
David Viers, executive director of the Volusia County Fair Association, said Tuesday that the motor coach group approached his organization recently and is negotiating to relocate to the fairgrounds there.
Russell said, however, "I believe we can still do a better job than Volusia. This rally has a significant financial impact on this county.''
The airport charges $6,000 annually for the group to put on the event, and $12,000 annually for the lease of a 6,000-square-foot storage area and office. The group told county officials they usually end up with between $20,000 and $30,000 in additional expenses associated with the annual rally.
In response to the organization's concerns, county officials have agreed to extend its lease several months and to gather information on what it might take to find another hangar for the group to use during their annual rally. They will also explore possible construction of a building that could be used by the motor coach group and other organizations that host events at the airport throughout the year.
Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce president Pat Crowley said losing the event would have a noticeable impact on the economy, in that it comes at a time of year when many local businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
"In this fragile economy, it's enough to put someone over the edge," Crowley said. "That's how dependent some of them are on events like these."
Former rally local director Frank Colletti said some of the committee members have expressed that they are simply tired of Brooksville and want to see the event move to a location closer to more activities. Colletti, who recently resigned from his post as senior vice president because of the dispute, said some members have little appreciation for the way the community has supported the event for so many years.
"The county has been a great host over the years," Colletti said. "They worked hard every year to accommodate us. So they repay them by telling them that they want to leave? That doesn't make sense to me."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.