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Familiar faces, new attractions vie for Hernando tourism money

The Tourist Development Council heard proposals Tuesday and will vote on funding next month
ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times The Brooksville Blueberry Festival, held the last weekend of April in downtown Brooksville, brought visitors from locally and beyond.
Published Sep. 18
Updated Sep. 19

BROOKSVILLE — Representatives of 10 entities or events spoke before the Hernando County Tourist Development Council on Tuesday to ask for a total of more than $41,000 in grant money to support their marketing and advertising efforts.

Many were there on behalf of local staples: the Brooksville Blueberry Festival, the Hernando County Fine Arts Council and the Hernando County Growers Association.

A few were gearing up for first-time events, including Brooksville Main Street director Natalie Kahler, who asked for $2,700 to promote a March event celebrating women in Hernando County history, and the Hernando County Fair Association’s Richard Klimas, who wants $3,000 for a planned Jeep course at the fairgrounds.

There won’t be enough money for everybody to get what they want, said county tourism manager Tammy Heon. The council has about $36,000 to give, and she’ll hold aside several thousand of that for special projects and entities that couldn’t apply for grants now. Among them is Chinsegut Hill Retreat, which is still awaiting new management.

But Heon said it was more interest than the council gets in a typical year, when only seven or eight organizations apply for grants.

“It’s a sign of growth,” she said. "It’s a sign of more excitement, people wanting to do more things … All ships rise on the tide, and tourism is the tide.”

Council members will weigh the proposals before voting next month on who gets grants and in what amount. On Tuesday, they asked questions about out-of-town attendance at festivals, races and rallies, and dug into estimates on how many visits turned into overnight stays. Mostly, they praised the successes of repeat applicants and sounded hopeful as the applicants offered a peek into the future.

John Lee, the local restaurateur and organizer of the Brooksville Blueberry Festival, said the festival will take up more space in its third year, and that he’ll soon pass the reins entirely to the Brooksville Sr. Future Farmers of America Alumni, a nonprofit supporting the Hernando High School group. Growers Association president Mike DeFelice noted plans to develop a three-day motorcycle festival for January 2021.

The biggest dose of skepticism was toward Klimas’ plans for a Jeep course, which he said would cover a total of 13 acres and already involves $20,000 of his own money. Joe Bernardini, a Brooksville City Council member who also sits on the Tourist Development Council, was concerned that Tuesday was the first time he heard of the project. He worried that it could draw messy public opposition.

“It sounds like a great idea,” Bernardini said, "but you’re gonna have, ‘Not in my backyard.’”

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