The future of who will manage the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center was discussed at the regular Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting on February 22, 2022. The former managers, Mid Florida Community Services (MFCS), backed away from the resort in November 2021, and the property has been managed by Hernando County staff since then. Existing reservations are being honored, but new reservations are not being accepted.
This property is managed separately from the adjacent Chinsegut Hill Museum and Manor House which is currently managed by the Tampa Bay History Center.
Commissioners are divided approximately 3-2 on whether or not seeking new management should go forward, or if the venue should be shuttered or relocated. No vote was taken during this meeting.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said that the venue is not conveniently located. “It’s just so far out that most people just really don’t want to go up there. I don’t think we should put a lot of staff time in there other than having someone go up there every so often to make sure everything is okay.”
Commissioner Steve Champion commented that it is a beautiful property.
Commissioner John Allocco is the former BOCC Liaison for Chinsegut’s Board of Directors. Allocco stated that he spent more time with this board than the rest of his assignments combined.
“The most important thing is being taken care of right now — we’ve got someone to run that Manor House … I don’t care who gives us a proposal — there is no way to make money doing this, and it will always need to be subsidized, as far as the Retreat center goes.”
Allocco cited the lack of amenities as being the primary problem “It’s beautiful up there, but there’s only so long you can just look at the property.”
He also hinted that FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) may consider the property since they are currently maintaining 3800 acres of land nearby. On September 1st, 2015 USDA Agricultural Research Service transferred four tracts of land to FAMU to facilitate agricultural and natural resources research.
But if FAMU is not interested, Allocco suggested that the buildings be moved to a location with nearby activities and amenities, keeping the land for a wedding and similar events.
“I just don’t see how the Retreat center is going to be able to ever be profitable, and that means this county is going to have to subsidize it every year.”
When the discussion came to Commissioner Beth Narverud, she said brightly, “I have an idea.”
Narverud had recently spoken to a private business owner interested in renting the property to establish a mental health and rehabilitation center, staffed by counselors and healthcare professionals.
Narverud added that the buildings, each with four private bedrooms, central bathroom, kitchen, and living room, would be ideal for a private residential facility. She expects further discussion with the unnamed business, regarding lease terms and conditions.
Allocco stated that the dining room would be required before any lessees are signed. “If we were to upgrade the kitchen area and do things that would be required by normal businesses, it would get cost prohibitive very quickly.” Narverud disagreed.
County Attorney Jon Jouben added that the county would need written permission from the current lessor before the property could be subleased. The lease is currently held by The Tampa Bay History Museum and expires in 2063. According to County Administrator Jeff Rogers, management of the retreat is separate from the Manor House because of the different focus — the museum experts are not experts in hospitality.
Champion commended Narverud’s idea, however, said he didn’t think the location would be desirable. He went on to say that if he were not a county official, he would be interested in the property. Champion, who rents cottages in Tennessee suggested that poor management is the reason that the venue is not profitable. He believes its primary use should be wedding events.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb agreed with Allocco, adding that unless upgrades and additions are brought to the center, general interest will not be great. He did suggest that proposals be accepted, however.
Rogers reported that several county Capital Improvement Projects (CIPs) are slated for the property, including an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) survey, bathrooms added to the dining hall, and lighting upgrades.
Champion suggested that going forward, incoming proposals may contain the tenant’s intent to repair and upgrade as needed to conduct their specific business.
Allocco is not optimistic about the county being able to step away from the property. “I’m not trying to throw water on [these ideas] … I just have a feeling that regardless where it goes, it will be back before this board in a couple of years.”