Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Once again, future of annual RV rally at Hernando airport is in doubt

BROOKSVILLE — Before the annual parade of recreational vehicles thunders into Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport next week, the fate of future rallies at the site likely will be settled.

On Tuesday, the board of directors of the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association will meet to decide whether the group's 16th annual rally in Hernando County will be its last.

The rally, which has provided an economic boost for local businesses, has become a money drain according to the organization's president, Jim Duncan.

Renting huge tents and providing generators for the rally will set the association back more than $100,000 this year.

Last year, association officials talked about moving future rallies to Volusia County, where officials had been courting them. But Hernando officials assembled a package of incentives, cutting fees, offering to take over maintenance of the site and working to find a more permanent structure to house future events.

Organizers had hoped that by now, officials with the county, the airport and the Hernando County Aviation Authority would have made good on the promise to work with the association to provide an indoor venue for the rally.

"We spoke to (county officials) about this. They were in agreement that they were going to try to help us,'' Duncan said. "But that didn't happen. I don't think anyone stepped up to the plate to do what they needed to keep us here.''

He said rally organizers like Brooksville and the welcome they get from local residents and businesses. And he acknowledged that the county had followed through with some reductions in costs, including having county workers mow and clean up the rally site.

But the money that's being lost, he said, "is astronomical.''

He said the association has other options for future rallies, though he would not say where. He did say that Volusia County no longer is in the picture.

Duncan said Hernando airport and Aviation Authority officials know what the issues are, but "we're just not having people look long-range and have a plan for this.''

Last year, the county agreed to try to secure the hangar at the old Brooksville Air Center for the use of the motor coach visitors. But soon after the county acquired the site, an eager business came forward to lease it, so it is not available.

Airport manager Kevin Daugherty said Wednesday that he was not aware of the issue with the tents. He just was hired by the county last summer, and when he came before the County Commission in September, he brought them a lease that had been drawn up before his arrival.

He said he had hoped to get through this year's rally, critique how it went and then negotiate for the 2015 rally.

"We definitely want them back next year,'' Daugherty said.

Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut had been integral to the negotiations. When he found out that rally organizers were again talking about leaving last week, he contacted Duncan. Schraut said he wanted to meet with him, but he was out of town, according to Duncan.

Duncan said Wednesday that he did not expect to be able to meet with Schraut before his board decides whether to leave Hernando.

Schraut did not respond to phone messages, texts and emails from the Tampa Bay Times.

When County Commissioner Nick Nicholson heard of Duncan's concerns Wednesday, he talked with County Administrator Len Sossamon, who now plans to meet with Duncan.

"We're going to get this straightened out,'' Nicholson said.

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Published: 12/16/17