The future of the management of Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Conference Center was discussed at the regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on February 22, 2022. Former managers, Mid Florida Community Services (MFCS), moved away from the resort in November 2021, and the property has been managed by Hernando County staff since then. Existing reservations are honored, but new reservations are not accepted.
This property is operated separately from the adjacent Chinsegut Hill Museum and Mansion, which is currently operated by the Tampa Bay History Center.
The commissioners are split roughly 3-2 on whether the search for a new direction should go ahead or whether the venue should be closed or moved. No vote was taken at this meeting.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said the location is not ideally located. “It’s so out of the way that most people really don’t want to go there. I don’t think we should spend a lot of time on it, other than having someone go over there once in a while 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 the Chinsegut Board. Allocco said 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 have someone to run this mansion…I don’t care who makes a proposal to us – there’s no way to make money by doing that, and it will always have to be subsidized, as far as the retreat center is concerned.
Allocco cited the lack of amenities as the main problem “It’s beautiful up there, but it’s only been so long you can just stare at the property.”
He also hinted that FAMU (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) might consider the property since they currently maintain 3,800 acres of land nearby. On September 1, 2015, the USDA Agricultural Research Service transferred four plots of land to FAMU to facilitate agricultural and natural resource research.
But if FAMU is not interested, Allocco suggested 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 retirement center will ever be profitable, and that means this county will have to subsidize it every year.”
When the discussion took place with Commissioner Beth Narverud, she said vivaciously, “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 with counselors and medical professionals.
Narverud added that the buildings, each with four private bedrooms, a central bathroom, kitchen and living room, would be ideal for a private residential facility. She expects further discussions with the anonymous company regarding the terms and conditions of the lease.
Allocco said the dining room would be required before tenants signed on. “If we were to upgrade the kitchen and do things that would be required by normal businesses, it would very quickly become prohibitively expensive.” Narverud disagreed.
County Attorney Jon Jouben added that the county would need written permission from the current lessor before the property could be sublet. The lease is currently held by the Tampa Bay History Museum and expires in 2063. According to County Administrator Jeff Rogers, the management of the retreat is separate from the mansion due to the different focus – museum experts don’t are not hospitality experts.
Champion welcomed Narverud’s idea, however, said he did not think the location would be desirable. He went on to say that if he wasn’t a county official, he would be interested in the property. Champion, who rents cabins in Tennessee, suggested poor management is the reason the site is unprofitable. He thinks its primary use should be wedding events.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb agreed with Allocco, adding that unless improvements and additions are made to the center, the general interest will not be high. However, he suggested that the proposals be accepted.
Rogers reported that several county-wide capital improvement projects (CIPs) are planned for the property, including an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) survey, bathrooms added to the dining room, and upgrades to the lighting.
Champion suggested that in future, incoming proposals could contain the tenant’s intent to repair and upgrade as needed to conduct its specific business.
Allocco isn’t optimistic the county can walk away from the property. “I’m not trying to throw water on [these ideas] … I just have a feeling that wherever he goes, he’ll be back in front of that board in a few years.