BROOKSVILLE — As hundreds of visitors departed over the weekend from the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, they left behind a glimmer of hope of returning someday.
The association announced last week that its 2015 rally will move to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds. According to the association's president, Jim Duncan, Hernando County officials did not follow through with the facilities the association needs to avoid red ink in its financial reports this year.
Late last week, however, County Administrator Len Sossamon met with Duncan, and Duncan left the door open for a possible return to Brooksville in 2016.
He told county officials there were several things the county would have to provide if the organization were to ever come back to Hernando.
Among the requirements: between 600 and 1,000 recreational vehicle spaces with water and electrical hook-ups, dump stations, a building that could seat 2,000 people for entertainment purposes, another building for use by vendors and for workshops, and improved access to the airport.
Duncan said Tuesday that he expected to get a formal list to Sossamon by the end of the month.
"This will let them see what they could do for us,'' he said. "We're not asking for anything extraordinary.''
While Duncan said this year's rally went well, there were just 573 motor coaches in attendance, down from last year. Part of the reason was a conflict with the scheduling of another a rally in another state, he said, but some association members also didn't attend "because they're tired of coming to tents and getting wet."
The cost of the tents and generators has been among the biggest issues for the association.
Even as the rally was opening last week, Bradley Dye of Corporate Jet Solutions, the airline repair company that took over the old Brooksville Air Center property at the airport, offered the use of his 22,000-square-foot hangar, access to power and fuel at his cost.
But Duncan said that the offer came too late. He signs contracts for tents for the rally more than six months in advance.
Sossamon said offers such as Dye's might help the county develop the type of infrastructure that rally organizers say they need to consider a return to Brooksville. But the discussions have only begun.
Once the county receives a formal list of requirements from the motor coach association, Sossamon will meet with his staff to determine the cost and to talk about what the public and private sectors might be able to provide.
Then the economic feasibility of the plan — including how much local businesses benefit from the rally — needs to be determined, he said.
Discussions by the County Commission, along with public input, would be the next step.
Sossamon said he didn't get the impression that Duncan believes Sarasota has all of the answers the association seeks — just a better deal than what is offered now in Brooksville. He noted, for instance, that Sarasota doesn't have the number of RV pads with hook-ups that Duncan seeks.
"What we're going to have to do is vet and investigate'' and answer some questions, Sossamon said.
He questioned whether putting down concrete pads for the RVs might take away from the airport's primary purpose, which is aviation. He also said there might be another place in Hernando to put the rally, possibly the fairgrounds.
Policymakers ultimately will have to decide whether the benefits of the rally outweigh the costs, the administrator said.
"We have to remember,'' he said, "we're talking about building a permanent facility for a temporary activity.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.