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Time for county to take over management of Chinsegut

The group Christie Anderberg helped found is called Friends of Chinsegut Hill, and that's what Anderberg has been for many years — a good, devoted friend to Chinsegut.

But now, it needs more than that.

It needs professional help.

It needs a manager who has a record of successfully running a historical event center, someone with a proven ability to generate revenue from such a property without compromising its authenticity.

And because of Chinsegut's importance to the county, it needs the best possible person for this job, a person hired after an extensive search and paid a decent salary.

The Friends board was right in determining this month that this person is not Anderberg. It let her go from the paid position of executive director, which she has held since 2013, because on her watch the home hasn't earned enough money to become a self-sustaining, nonprofit enterprise.

And on Tuesday, the County Commission agreed to step in and take on the job of helping to operate and market the hill for 90 days.

It's the right step, but too small — partly because the potential of Chinsegut is so big.

The Chinsegut manor house is a grand antebellum home on 114 acres of paradise that could do more than just attract a steady stream of out-of-town visitors, though it could certainly do that. It could be a seal-worthy symbol of the best of Hernando, its history and beauty.

It justifies the services of a full-time manager, and getting a good one would cost at least $60,000 per year, said Roger Carlton Sherman, a Friends member who once served as chairman of Tampa's Henry B. Plant Museum.

Lots of museums are run by nonprofits such as Friends. But in lots of other communities, these groups have the resources to search for and pay such an employee. Friends, on the other hand, doesn't have enough money to refinish the manor house floors.

Friends, which has failed to live up to its name in one way — a chronic problem is a divided membership, extremely unfriendly to one another — could live up to it in the most important way. Rather than run Chinsegut, the role stipulated in its agreement with the county, Friends could support it and advocate for it — raise money, hold work days, serve as volunteer docents.

Management, on the other hand, would be the responsibility of the county. Commissioners might have to scramble to fund the manager's position in the short term, but only in the short term. Rentals of the house and cabins for retreats and weddings should ultimately, easily, cover the costs.

This is an even more obvious move if we consider that any upfront investment would be tiny compared to the one already made, the $1.5 million state grant to renovate the historic building.

The heavy lifting at Chinsegut, in other words, has already been done. And this is a good time to remember that it wouldn't have happened without Anderberg.

Just a few years ago, the manor house was a rotting, sagging structure, unwanted by any public agency. It is now structurally sound and lacking only a few finishing touches and a vigorous marketing campaign to bring it to its full potential. That no commissioners doubt its value and that state lawmakers were willing to fight for the renovation grant is a testament to Anderberg's interest and advocacy.

After all, that's what Friends are for.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com. Follow @ddewitttimes.

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