The Brooksville City Council voted unanimously to approve a licensing agreement that allows the city to take over the management of the Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center property, but the panel sent City Manager Ron Snowberger back to the drawing board over fees for the rental of cottages at the venue.
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. Now, Hernando County is in need of a new manager for the property.
In March, the council voted unanimously to allow city manager Ron Snowberger to draw up a management contract that would set aside $160,000 in the city’s fiscal year 2023/2024 budget. An additional $80,000 (six month prorated cost) is budgeted from the city’s remaining reserves in the fiscal year 2022/2023 budget to hire a property manager who would work under the Brooksville Parks and Recreation Department to carry out the general management of the property. Tasks include marketing, booking reservations, internet services, safety programs, inspections, and security measures. Also, under the proposed agreement, all revenue generated by the property would be put back into its management and maintenance.
During the council’s regular meeting on June 5, Snowberger presented the agreement for the panel’s approval, but fees for the rental of cottage facilities became a sticking point for the council.
According to the proposed fees, the cottage rental rate for a single room for one night would cost $17. Meanwhile, $70 would be charged for the rental of an entire single 5-room cottage, which includes four beds and a kitchen, for one night.
Mayor Blake Bell argued that at least one of the fees was too low based on other area prevailing prices. “I personally think that $17 is a little too low,” Bell said. “I don’t even know if $17 even covers the cost of staff and maintenance.” “I personally think that the $17 is a little too low.”
Council member Christa Tanner agreed. She also argued that the $70 that would be charged for a full cottage rental was also too low.
“I don’t think we can rent the full cottage for $70 a night,” she said. “ I’m excited about this for the city of Brooksville, but it’s no shock to anybody that this has to make fiscal sense, but we need to be in that sweet spot, and $70 ain’t it.”
City Parks and Recreation Department Director David Howard said that the proposed fees, which were derived from research into the rental costs of other similar venues, were “Just a starting point.” “Obviously, I hope the council members could guide us on what price range is feasible,” he said.
As a result, Bell called on the council to approve the agreement and to put off deciding on the rental fees for the facility ahead of the agreement’s July 1 start date. “So I think we can go ahead, and if council feels comfortable with approving the agreement we have until July 1,” Bell said. “Let’s take some feedback and then bring back the fees that we can adopt as a council,” Bell said.
The motion to approve the agreement passed by a 5-0 margin.