BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's tourism information center at the State Road 50/Interstate 75 interchange apparently is a lot more popular than the county's tourism coordinator thought.
Tammy Heon brought what she believed was a seemingly routine issue before the County Commission on Tuesday. With the approval of the county's Tourist Development Council, she proposed closing the east-side office, arguing that not enough visitors stop by and then stay in Hernando overnight to justify keeping it open.
She wanted to reallocate the money to other activities that might do more to boost tourism.
But the suggestion didn't sit well with a current and a former member of the Tourist Development Council, several county commissioners and some prominent business leaders with interests in that part of the county.
"I-75 has been since its completion in 1968 the gateway to Hernando County,'' businessman David Hill said.
About 15,600 vehicles pass the office daily, and even information given to commissioners indicates that the number of visitors has been increasing, Hill noted.
SunTrust Bank executive Jim Kimbrough said the interstate is "the connector from Canada to Naples'' and that the tourism office's best days lie ahead. One indicator, he said, is that the Cracker Barrel restaurant at I-75 and SR 50 has become the company's sixth-busiest location.
"We all know that 75 is the gateway to Hernando County,'' said county Commissioner Diane Rowden. "I just can't see why we're not doing more to promote that.''
Commissioner Dave Russell said he came willing to support the closure but, after hearing the discussion, thought the county should look deeper.
Commissioners asked their tourism liaison, Jim Adkins, to bring a plan to the June 24 commission meeting for beefing up the tourism office.
Heon summed up what the office needs in two words: more money.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.