RV rally participants like Hernando, but will follow if event moves

Participants like the area and its friendly people, but organizers are looking at costs and amenities.

Published February 6 2013
Updated February 13 2013

BROOKSVILLE — You might describe Rudy and Betty Roggenkamp as ultimate RVers.

Every winter, they load up their 36-foot Bounder motor home and head south from Vernon, Conn., to Florida. One of the couple's prime stop-offs has been the annual Southeast Area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association, south of Brooksville.

During their weeklong stay, the Roggenkamps spend money. Lots of it. They shop in local grocery stores, buy fuel for their motor home and try to make at least a couple of visits to their favorite local restaurant, the Masaryktown Cafe on U.S. 41.

"It's a very comfortable place for us," said Betty Roggenkamp, 81. "We love the area, and people here have always been friendly to us."

As this year's rally got under way Wednesday, news that organizers are considering moving the event next year from its 15-year home at Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport to the Volusia County Fairgrounds wasn't greeted with enthusiasm by the Roggenkamps, who have been making the annual trek for the past eight years.

Nonetheless, the couple, like many others who spoke Wednesday to the Times, said they will likely go wherever the event goes.

"We'll have to, if we want to see our friends," said Bob Saunders, 79, of Port Charlotte, who along with his wife, Carol, has attended the event since 2004. "I like the area, but I'm not sure it makes much difference where they hold it. RV people go because of the event, not necessarily the location."

The rally, which runs through Sunday, has always meant an economic boon to Hernando County. Up until a few years ago, the rally typically drew upward of 2,000 motor coaches from throughout the eastern United States. This year's event is expected to attract about 800 coaches.

The decline in attendance has been cause for concern among officers of the motor coach group, who fear that they may be forced to scale back the event in order to make ends meet. Last week, representatives from the association's Southeast region told Hernando County officials that the rising cost of producing the event has outpaced what it takes in at the gate and from vendor space rental.

Southeast chapter president Ralph Marino said the association spends upward of $30,000 a year to rent tents, part of the reason why the group has entered into negotiations with the Volusia County Fair Association to relocate the event to the fairgrounds there.

According to Marino, the fair association's offer includes the use of three permanent buildings, plus other amenities that are not available at the Hernando airport site.

"Not having a permanent building for meetings and activities has been a concern for us for a long time," Marino said. "It's forced us to add expenses we don't feel we need to have."

In the wake of last week's meeting, Hernando County officials agreed to extend the motor coach group's lease through September and to gather information on what it might take to find another hangar for the group to use during its annual rally. They also plan to 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.

However, Marino said he's not certain his group can wait much longer to make a decision. He said the association's national executive board will meet Monday in Brooksville to discuss the matter.

"It's unfair to us to keep the (Volusia County) fairgrounds in limbo," Marino said. "We have a lot to do to get ready for next year, and we generally start working on that right after the rally."

Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.