Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Family Motor Coach Association will keep annual rally in Hernando County

BROOKSVILLE — The annual Southeast Area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association will remain at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

The association has canceled a vote this week asking its leaders whether they wanted to move the rally to Volusia County and instead will begin work on a lease to return to Brooksville in early 2014.

Airport manager Don Silvernell learned of the change of direction in an email early Tuesday morning from Ralph Marino, Southeast Area national vice president of the motor coach association.

The cancellation of the vote came after a flurry of letters and emails sent in recent days concerning the association's discussions to move next year's rally to the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand.

After sending an offer with the intent of improving the association's bottom line financially, Hernando officials bristled when they learned that Marino was still urging the voting members of the association's leadership to choose Volusia over Brooksville. They found the information he sent to the voting members to be incomplete and incorrect.

Hernando responded by sending letters to those same leaders again, repeating the county's offer and urging that the group consider both sides before voting. In addition, some members of the association's leadership turned the tables on Marino, saying they also wanted more balanced information before deciding whether to move.

"Apparently, there were a few people who had conversations, and I guess the decision was made to stay here,'' Silvernell said. "This is the way we were hoping that it would go.''

The airport is offering the association a one-year lease to buy more time to discuss another issue that caused the motor coach officials to consider a move. They need a permanent building because the lease of tents for the rally is expensive.

If some arrangement can be made to provide a building, the airport will be interested in signing a longer-term lease with the motor coach association, Silvernell said.

The rally, held in early February, has been held at the airport for the past 15 years.

"I'm really excited, and not only for the FMCA, but because of a lot of friendships that have been made over the years in Brooksville and all over Hernando County,'' said county Commissioner Diane Rowden.

"I just think it's really good, and it's only going to get better for them. Now that we've gotten through the rough spots, we know what their concerns are.''

Among the changes the airport has proposed in its lease with the motor coach association is a reduced fee for use of the airport next year. Rather than charging a license fee of $6,500, the airport would charge a per-coach fee of $4 that would be capped at 700 coaches, which would reduce the fee to no more than $2,800.

"This will provide an annual savings of $3,700 over the current agreement, or more depending upon actual attendance,'' according to the offer authored by Hernando County business development manager Michael McHugh.

The airport would also take over the responsibility of mowing and grounds maintenance, reducing equipment and maintenance costs by approximately $8,000.

In addition, McHugh wrote that the association could use a hangar at the old Brooksville Air Center, which the airport is in the process of purchasing. The 20,000-square-foot hangar could be leased for $20,000, a "significant savings to your organization versus the rental of similar-sized tents,'' McHugh noted.

The airport plans to market the Brooksville Air Center, but would work with any company that leases it to make sure the hangar is available for next year's motor coach rally.

Another offer to the association is that the airport, the county's tourism development office and the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce would work to recruit local community and student groups to provide volunteers to help with parking and other duties at the rally.

"These same groups will also work with your FMCA staff to develop other local activities for your FMCA members during the rally which can provide incremental income to your organization,'' McHugh wrote.

"It's a good day,'' said Gary Schraut, chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority.

Schraut said he understood that Marino's efforts to move the rally were well meant.

"He had a vision, and he tried to fulfill that vision,'' he said. "But sometimes you get so focused on something that you don't realize all the things you're knocking over along the way, and one of those was the long-term relationship that this community has had with the FMCA.''

Marino did not return a call and an email from the Times seeking comment.

In the meantime, David Viers, executive director of the Volusia County Fair Association, said Tuesday he had not heard anything new about the motor coach association's plans.

Viers said he was expecting to hear how the vote of association leaders turned out after March 28. He said Marino had not told him about any change of plans.

"I can't say anything until I hear from him,'' Viers said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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