BROOKSVILLE — A start-up group that formed two years ago with hopes of developing a multipurpose facility for local art, music and cultural organizations has decided to throw in the towel.
Rick Foti, president of the Cultural Arts and Entertainment Center, said Thursday that the nonprofit organization has officially disbanded and has returned $30,000 in seed money given to it last year by the Hernando County Arts Council.
"It's just too hard trying to raise money during hard times," Foti said. "You knock on all the doors you can knock on, but if there's no response you just have to give up."
The fledgling group, made up of representatives from nonprofit arts organizations, bounded onto the scene in 2011 with a grand plan to acquire the defunct 6,600-square-foot Hernando Suzuki auto dealership on Cortez Boulevard, near the Suncoast Parkway. Plans called for the estimated $2 million needed to purchase and renovate the property to be paid with grants and private donations. Rental income would go toward paying the operating expenses.
Foti, who is vice president of the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, said that it didn't take him long to discover that such a concept would prove to be a tough sell, and he believes at least part of that reluctance was due to the failed effort by a similar group in 1999 to raise money for the proposed Nimmagadda Cultural Center, a facility that mirrored the concept proposed by the Cultural Arts and Entertainment Center, with a 1,000-seat concert hall, an art gallery and space for classroom instruction.
The project, which was backed financially by the family of a prominent Brooksville doctor, Oak Hill Hospital, the Times and the county, collapsed in a sea of controversy after revelations that more than half of the $428,173 the group had raised was spent on architectural plans and public relations.
Hernando County Arts Council chairman Roger Sherman said that while he applauded Foti's efforts, he believes the county may not be financially equipped to support a large cultural arts center at this time.
"Those kinds of projects need very wealthy benefactors and large corporate donors, and we just don't have them here," said Sherman, a retired interior designer who was part of the civic group that helped launch the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
Sherman believes Hernando's arts and cultural organizations will always enjoy public support — just on a smaller scale.
"The cultural community is alive and well, but it's been slumbering," he said. "Making it grow requires people who are committed to broadening that appeal and are willing to work to make it prosper.
"It's going to take time, but I'm certain it will happen."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]