The City of Brooksville could assume the management of the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center now that members of the Brooksville City Council have given City Manager Ron Snowberger the go-ahead to pursue a contract with Hernando County to do that.
Located about five miles northeast of the City, the 115-acre Chinsegut Hill property is owned by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)- Division of State Lands and is leased to Hernando County for a term of 50 years ending in May 2063.
The property contains a Manor House, currently managed by the Tampa Bay Historical Center as a historical site and museum, as well as eight cabins, a fire pit, and a dining hall all separate from the Manor. Those facilities (called the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center), previously managed by Mid-Florida Community Services Inc. (MFCS) under a now-ended license agreement with Hernando County, have been available for lease for weddings, corporate events, camps, and other events. MFCS backed away from the management of the Retreat and Conference Center in November 2021.
During the Council’s regular meeting on March 20, 2023, Snowberger told the panel that a management contract for the property would “provide a positive benefit to the city and implement a collaboration between the city of Brooksville and Hernando County.”
Also, revenue derived from short and long-term rentals of Chinsegut Hill facilities would underwrite their maintenance and marketing, Snowberger said.
“The facilities appear to be in relatively good shape; there are not a lot of deficiencies that we could find with the facility,” Snowberger told the panel. “All of the revenue that we would make effectively immediately when we execute the contract would go back into the management of it.”
According to Snowberger, a contract to manage the property would cost the city an estimated $160,000 per year.
“But because we’re already halfway into the year, we figured if we could appropriate for this fiscal year $80,000, which would allow us to staff a person (to market the property),” he said. “Then we would budget $160,000, and all of the revenue that we would make immediately go back into the management of it (the property) to offset it; and by the third year, we predict that we could take a comprehensive overview to see exactly where we are how much we would need to manage for the third year.”
Meanwhile, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department would be responsible for the general management of property, including marketing, booking reservations, internet services, safety programs, inspections, and security measures.
Parks and Recreation Director David Howard told the Council assuming management of the facility would be more than financially advantageous to the City.
“Between the growth, the smart growth, and the plans that we have as the leadership in this city, I think that we can bring in some really great events, not just to this facility, but that would draw people into Brooksville,” Howard said. “The possibilities are endless.”
Mayor Blake Bell agreed.
“Chinsegut is a historical gem for the city of Brooksville and for Hernando County – the historical aspect of it, the architectural aspect of it, and the preservation aspect of it,” Bell said. “This is an exciting endeavor for the city to move into; I 100 percent support it.”
While she agreed about the property’s value as an asset to the City, Council member Christa Tanner urged the City to be cautious before entering any agreement to manage the property.
Specifically, Tanner expressed concern about the City’s financial responsibility to bring some of the property’s facilities in line with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and to make other capital improvements.
“That (the report) said it needed upwards of $100,000 of improvement to make it ADA acceptable, and the cabins are old, and there are old air conditioners, and there is an air conditioning issue in the dining hall,” Tanner said. “It’s beautiful up there. It could be a gem for our city. Our concern is that it’s going to cost us a lot more money than we think it’s going to.”
In response, Bell said that any contract put forward concerning the management of the property would be subject to Council approval.
“The contract has to be tight and make sure that we are protected from a financial and liability standpoint,” Bell said. “ We don’t own the property, we don’t have a contract with the state. If it’s not feasible for the city after we maintain it, if it’s not successful, then we no longer maintain it.”
Finally, the Council voted 5-0 authorizing Snowberger to review paperwork toward presenting a contract resulting in the City’s management of the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center property.