By MATT BLOIS
The Rippavilla Plantation is hosting a bridal fair this weekend, and the organization that operates the historic home is hoping it will attract some new customers.
The event will feature vendors selling services such as wedding photography, catering, flowers and makeup. It is also a chance for the city to showcase Rippavilla as a potential venue for weddings.
Meghan Gwaltney, Rippavilla’s director of weddings and rentals, said that events are a big opportunity for the property. Right now, the mansion only hosts about 15 weddings each year. She said she would like to see that number grow to several weddings each month.
“We’re hoping for it to grow in the coming year. Part of what I’m doing is making some changes to our packaging, our presentation as well as our marketing material,” she said. “We really think that there’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Rippavilla Inc., the nonprofit the operates the property, donated the mansion to Spring Hill in 2017, and the city has proposed using some of its hotel/motel tax to pay for its maintenance.
Spring Hill plans to put $100,000 towards major maintenance projects on the historic home. However, the hope is that events on property grounds will generate enough money independently to cover operating costs, such as staff salaries.
Rippavilla has submitted a proposal to the city that lays out how it plans to operate the mansion. According to the proposal, the organization has already reduced annual expenditures by $25,000. That proposal says the nonprofit plans to ramp up its fundraising efforts, but it also cites events as an opportunity to generate more revenue.
The Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen haven’t accepted that proposal yet.
Increasing the number of events could be a way to generate more revenue for the property, and move it closer towards the city’s goal of financial sustainability. Tax documents show that between 2014 and 2016, the nonprofit spent slightly more money than it took in overall.
A large portion of its revenue came from donations. However, in 2016 it also earned more than $30,000 through tours, weddings and events. Gwaltney said it costs $3,500 to reserve a Saturday wedding and $2,500 to reserve a wedding on a Friday or Sunday.
This is the fifth time the property has hosted the bridal fair, but it’s the first time that they won’t charge an entry fee. Gwaltney hopes free admission will encourage brides and grooms to bring family and friends along. During the event guests can get a tour of the mansion, and the garden will be set up for a wedding so visitors can see what it looks like.