Irma damages Clermont landmark
Michael Collinson, left, assesses the damage to the Clermont Venue on Tuesday while his wife Robin takes a phone call in Clermont. Tropical Storm Irma brought heavy rain and winds, causing damage to the front of the facility. The property was purchased by Robin Collinson and her mother Phyllis Henson four years ago, and they have renovated it over time. - photo by David Barnes

There was something special that Robin Collinson saw in the old, worn and neglected Clermont Hotel that made her want to buy the town landmark when a local bank placed it on foreclosure sale four years ago.

Collinson had to talk her business partner — and mom, Phyllis Henson — into buying the property for $125,000 after the bank refused to take less. After persuading her mother, they began the arduous and expensive task of renovating the two-story hotel built in 1905. Together, they turned the building with 20 rooms upstairs into a popular event center they call the Clermont Venue.

Money brought in from renting out the venue for weddings, reunions, birthdays, baby and bridal showers and catering events goes right back into making improvements on the landmark at 101 Dean St. in downtown Clermont.

Collinson said that’s why her heart sank when she was called early Tuesday morning to let her know that Irma’s tropical storm gusts had ripped the balcony off the front of the building. Boards and pieces of wood  littered the street.

At the time of the call, Collinson said she was at Faith Christian Academy, a day care center on Candler Road that she and her mom also own and operate.

“I rushed out here as quick as I could, and when I saw it I just bust out crying,” Collinson said.

To learn more

For more information on the Clermont Venue, contact co-owner Robin Collinson at 678-316-8526 or visit theclermontvenue.com.

Her husband, Michael Collinson, a chef in the Gainesville area for 20 years who currently works at Gardens of Gainesville assisted living community, also drove up to survey the damage. The couple made calls trying to find someone who could get them an estimate for repairing the damage done by the storm. They left messages.

“It’s hard to find someone today,” Michael Collinson said. “There’s been a lot of damage all over the county.”

Robin Collinson and her mother said their priority at the moment is to get the debris off the street and the premises cleaned up so it’s not a mess when the town celebrates its Clermont Days Festival on Friday and Saturday.

“They hold a parade that comes right in front of the hotel,” she said.

The former hotel has been a focal point of life in Clermont for more than a century, Robin Collinson said.  

“The train used to stop right in front of the hotel, and people would come here from South Georgia to get away from the heat in the summertime,” Collinson said.

A woman of faith who wants to fix up one of the rooms upstairs to house a pregnant teen that she can shelter and mentor, Collinson is trusting in God that the Clermont Venue will be better than it was prior to the storm damage. She said the structure does not appear to have any damage inside.

“This is a business, but more than that I feel like it’s important to the town,” Collinson said.

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