BROOKSVILLE — After a year's absence due to a legal battle between principal property owners, Florida Classic Park in eastern Hernando County is set to become "canine central" again with the return of the Florida Classic Clusters Winter Dog Show in 2014.
Mary Manning-Stolz, coordinator of the event, organized by the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster, confirmed Wednesday that the group has reserved dates with the American Kennel Club that will bring the show — the largest accredited dog show in Florida — back to its traditional two-week slot in mid January.
"It will be good to be back home," said Manning-Stolz. "The park has always been the perfect location for our dog show."
Last fall, organizers of the show, which included four Central Florida kennel clubs, announced they were moving this year's show to Ocala because of the fallout from a lawsuit filed in 2011 by the Inverness Kennel Club. The suit, which names Manning-Stolz and her husband, Daniel, as primary co-defendants, along with Florida Classic Park, alleged that the couple misappropriated money raised from events, withheld profits and failed to maintain detailed financial records.
Manning-Stolz declined Wednesday to comment on the lawsuit, which is pending, but said that club representatives agreed that the Florida Classic Clusters Winter Dog Show needed to return to its traditional home. She said that although the show in Ocala was a financial success, many members expressed a desire to go back to Hernando.
Inverness lawyer Kevin Dixon, who represents the Inverness Kennel Club, said he was unaware of any stipulation that precluded his clients or the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster from using or holding events on the 50 acres on Lockhart Road that is jointly owned by the clubs.
However, the announcement by the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster of its intention to hold this year's event in Ocala prompted the Inverness club to move its planned all-breed dog show on May 18 and 19 to the Hernando County Fairgrounds in Brooksville.
For nearly a dozen years, the Florida Classic Clusters show had a sizable economic impact on local hotels, restaurants and businesses that cater to the largely out-of-town crowd. All told, the event brought an estimated $1.5 million in tourism dollars to the county each year.
Hernando County tourism coordinator Tammy Heon said that she was pleased to hear news of the dog show's return to the county.
"It's a major boost to east-side businesses, especially," Heon said. "I'm certain that they will be greeted with welcome arms."
Meanwhile, Manning-Stolz said her organization is exploring opportunities to rent out the facility for other events, including breed-specific dog and cat shows and arts and crafts fairs.
"It's been under-used, in our opinion," she said. "It would be nice to see the park earn some revenue for the club."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.