Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
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Despite I-75 push, county prefers Weeki Wachee for tourism center

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— Despite a push by some to find yet another location for an educational-tourism center, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is still the preferred site for county officials seeking to attract visitors to Hernando County.

That stance was affirmed this week by Virginia Singer, the county’s public information manager, who said county commissioners believe the world-famous mermaid attraction would be a natural fit for the center.

Singer’s comments come two days after Fritz Musselmann, former land acquisition manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud) and two other people, sent a memo to commissioners telling them to rethink their decision and instead consider a standalone facility at the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Road 50 or “on such other property owned by the county conducive to such a facility.”

Musselmann said the Weeki Wachee Springs site is incompatible with the park’s master plan and would conflict with the entertainment options already present there.

This week’s memo follows an email he sent to commissioners in July when he said such a facility “should probably be built on a major thoroughfare thereby providing visibility and access to more potential visitors.”

Musselmann also criticized the county for the way it has tried to secure a spot for the proposed center.

“In the last several months, the county has proposed virtually the same facility concept in three locations,” he said, referring to earlier spots along Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach and on the grounds of the Weekiwachee Preserve off Osowaw Boulevard.

“The county’s apparent unwillingness to establish a temporary committee made up of experienced individuals who could help locate an appropriate site and develop a plan for the facility is baffling to me,” Musselmann said in his memo. “I would hope that egos aren’t preventing this common sense approach from being considered.”

Locating the proposed $6 million educational-tourism center at the I-75 corridor has been suggested by others because it is considered the “Gateway to Hernando County,” according to Singer.

“We welcome (Musselmann’s) ideas and comments and we want to work with him and the rest of the community to make it the best it can be at the best location it can be,” Singer said.

But right now, the county is waiting for a response from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), which is reviewing the Weeki Wachee State Park site and whether it will meet the future development plans for the park or if the county needs to make changes to the center’s concept.

“It has to fit in with their master plan and that’s what we’re waiting for,” Singer said.

The state has allocated $3 million to Hernando County for an educational-tourism center and county commissioners agreed to match that $3 million.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

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