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Alternate sites eyed for tourism center

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Published:   |   Updated: July 8, 2014 at 09:55 AM

HernandoCounty commissioners on Tuesday will discuss new locations for the proposed educational-tourism center, including near Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

The county had been pushing a site on the southern part of the Weekiwachee Preserve, near Osowaw Boulevard and adjacent to a freshwater lake that could be developed into a 20-acre public beach.

But dozens of residents voiced their displeasure at two public meetings last month, saying they don’t want the preserve spoiled with cars, crowds, children at a playground or food vendors.

County staffers since have reviewed dozens of comments and concerns from those meetings. On Tuesday they will present a list of alternative sites, including a section of preserve land off U.S. 19, just south of Weeki Wachee Springs State park.

Another would be at the Lake House at 1202 Kenlake Ave. in Spring Hill. Recently bought by the county from the Spring Hill Civic Association, the Lake House is on 17 acres and has a building designed for wedding receptions, award ceremonies, concerts, dances and other events. There’s room inside for 100 people, a full kitchen and an outdoor pavilion. People can set up a chair or blanket and get a view of Hunter’s Lake, which is on the property.

The cultural center presumably would be housed within the existing facility.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he likes the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park suggestion, especially if visitors could have river access.

Park officials likely would be in favor of having the adjacent tourism center because it would draw more crowds.

Asked why the county is looking for additional locations, Adkins said the concept is still in the formative stage and everything is on the table for discussion. The preserve site near Osowaw was never a done deal, commissioners have said.

“It’s just coming up with some alternative ideas and seeing what people think,” Adkins said.

Public Information Manager Virginia Singer said nothing has been decided on a possible location for the “Nature Coast Experience,” which is the working title of the center.

“Right now, we’re just bringing it to the board to get direction,” she said.

For example, the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park site would require meeting with Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials to see if such a center there would be feasible.

Singer said there are other locations within the preserve that could accommodate the facility.

The state granted Hernando County $3 million for a Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center and the county agreed to match that amount. The staff’s goal was to provide a high-quality, educational and nature-based experience while protecting natural resources , which was the reasoning for the acquisition of the Weeki Wachee Preserve by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

In keeping with the initial vision for the preserve, staff worked with SWFWMD and developed a conceptual plan potentially to locate the Nature Coast Experience on a small, previously mined area of the Weeki Wachee Preserve.

The conceptual plan included a combined educational and tourism center consisting of exhibits showcasing the natural beauty of Hernando County, the history and environmental significance of the preserve and the low-impact recreational activities available throughout the area. The layout of the Nature Coast Experience was designed to be similar to other environmental education facilities located on water management district preserves in Florida.

A staff report said the opposition from the public workshops last month was focused more on the proposed location of the center, not the concept.

Also Tuesday:

♦ After reviewing applications and conducting interviews, an interview committee will recommend offering the position of mosquito control director to Sandra Fisher.

Fisher is state certified, has a master’s degree in public health from Eastern Virginia Medical School and is experienced in running mosquito control programs. She will be offered $59,600 plus benefits. The county’s previous mosquito control director, Peter Taylor, was fired in March after his supervisor determined he failed to perform his duties.

The county commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St., in downtown Brooksville.

To view the entire agenda, visit http://www.co.hernando.fl.us/

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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