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Hernando to consider leasing Chinsegut Hill so it won't be sold

BROOKSVILLE — The folks who have worked hard and long to preserve a beloved Hernando County landmark got some good news Tuesday from county commissioners: They will consider backing a proposal to keep the 164-year-old Chinsegut Hill Manor House and its picturesque grounds in public hands.

Commissioners gave economic development manager Mike McHugh the go-ahead to explore the county's options to lease the facility from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which currently controls Chinsegut Hill.

"I'm thrilled," said Christie Anderberg, a member of the Historic Hernando Preservation Society and a founder of the Friends Of Chinsegut Hill, which is spearheading an effort to restore the antebellum plantation home and the nearby cabins and turn it into a setting for corporate conferences, weddings, nature retreats and educational seminars.

Anderberg said that her group has garnered more than $27,000 in private donations and recently secured a state historic grant that would pay for needed roof and structural repairs to the edifice. However, she stressed that all of that would be for naught if the state goes through with its plans to appraise and sell the property in November.

"We're down to the wire," Anderberg said. "This could be our last chance to save it."

The Friends have been trying to find a public or private agency to help the group care for Chinsegut Hill since 2009, when the University of South Florida announced it planned to abandon its lease after 40 years of using the facility as a retreat and conference center. But finding another state agency willing to parent the grass-roots group's effort to lease the facility has been frustrating.

Three years ago, the Friends helped put together a proposal that included support from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the county Tourist Development Council and the Hernando Historical Museum Association. This fell through after the county pulled out.

The conservation commission again raised hopes that it would be able to get funding to take over the manor house — if Friends could raise $75,000. It raised more than $25,000 in private donations, before the agency said last year that it could not secure funding after all.

Anderberg said that negotiations with other state agencies went nowhere. When DEP officials told her recently that the property would likely be put up for sale in November, she began scrambling to find local support.

Two weeks ago, Brooksville City Council members offered to write a letter of support for the Friends' effort. Anderberg has also garnered support from the county tourism board and the Hernando Audubon Society.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said that while the county would be happy to explore what it could do, he told the Friends to consider the county's involvement as a "tool" and "not for the money."

Anderberg said she is confident that her group can make a go of it. They have a business plan in place, and strong volunteer support from the community, she said.

"We're dedicated and we will support anyone who is willing to share our vision," Anderberg said. "We're ready to make this happen."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Hernando to consider leasing Chinsegut Hill so it won't be sold 10/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 8:17pm]
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