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Brooksville tree-top adventure course owner must renegotiate lease

Hernando County commissioners want to encourage the park operator to buy the property.

BROOKSVILLE — A new operator gave fresh life this year to the shuttered tree-top adventure course known as TreeUmph! But he has run into a snag over his proposed lease with the Hernando County Commission.

Commissioners are encouraging the operator of the FLG X Adventure Course to buy the county property soon, and have sent their staff back to negotiate something new.

County economic development director Valerie Pianta brought the lease proposal to commissioners on Oct. 8. It would have required course operator Paul Kent to pay $12,000 for the first year and $24,000 each of the next four years. It would have given Kent two more five-year lease options, with a 5 percent increase each year after the first five.

Kent operates the Tampa Bay Extreme Adventure Course on a 35-acre county parcel east of Brooksville. He reopened the course in April after the previous operator ran into financial difficulties. Kent owns a similar course in Flagstaff, Ariz., on another public property and recently purchased property for a third course in New Jersey.

Commissioners said the proposed lease payment structure did not provide incentive for Kent to buy the land.

"We wanted to not own it anymore,'' said Commissioner John Allocco.

Kent said that was his hope, as well, and that operating a park owned by another entity took away some of his flexibility.

"We want it to work. We want to buy the land,'' he said, but first it was important to know it was a "sustainable revenue model.''

"We want to be here for the long term,'' Kent said. "If it takes five or more years to get there, I’m okay with that.''

But that wasn’t acceptable to Commissioner Steve Champion. The proposed lease “wouldn’t even pay the taxes” Kent would have to pay if he owned the site.

Giving the new operator time to make the business work was Pianta’s goal, particularly after the previous operators went under. It’s important to bring people into the county, she said, and this is an attractive "adventure-themed activity.''

"We’re still not in the business of charity,'' Champion said. "The taxpayers still own this.''

Commissioner John Mitten suggested escalating the lease payments after the second year to make the purchase option a better deal.

"We definitely want you to succeed. We want you to be in Hernando County,'' Mitten said. "We don’t want to own it.'' He also suggested setting a purchase price.

Champion said he didn’t want a lease longer than five years. Pianta said she would take the commissioners’ comments and work out a new deal with Kent.

"We want you to be successful,'' Allocco said, "but we don’t want to be in the rental business.''