BROOKSVILLE — The proposed Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center might be on the move again, this time to a location considered the gateway to Hernando County — at Interstate 75 and Cortez Boulevard.
Ever since the county got word of a $3 million state allocation to build the center and agreed to a $3 million local match, officials have searched for the perfect site to draw visitors into the county, teach them about the area's unique natural features and recreational opportunities, and entice them to stay awhile.
The initial site considered was at Blue Pelican Marina in Hernando Beach. But a controversial rezoning issue there sank the project. Then the county pitched the Weekiwachee Preserve, where a beach carved from old mining lakes would have been included. But area residents and former officials from Southwest Florida Water Management District objected.
One of those was Fritz Musselmann, who was instrumental in securing and establishing the preserve.
Musselmann urged county officials to consider instead a partnership with Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, whose recently approved master plan called for the development of an interpretive center.
County commissioners agreed to look at the state park and sent two proposals to state parks officials outlining what they proposed for the center.
In a letter to commissioners dated Monday, Musselmann expressed disappointment in the county's plan for the site, saying it is incompatible with both the park's master plan and the park service's mission.
He said that since the county continues to push for a large education center, it should "build the facility at the intersection of I-75 and State Road 50 (Cortez)" or on another appropriate site.
That location also has drawn the support of another previous fan of the state park site, Denise Tenuto, president of the Friends of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
Tenuto, Musselmann's wife, wrote in a memo to county officials: "It is apparent by your proposal to the Florida Park Service … that you are not really interested in pursuing a partnership which may compromise your plans, but rather looking for a donation of Weeki Wachee property with a ready-made captive audience."
Chuck Morton of the Hernando County Port Authority also wrote to the commission, suggesting a location at the interstate interchange because the state park already has parking issues.
"By putting the center near the entrance of the county, which is I-75, we could educate the visitors as to what we have to offer and thereby encourage them to visit here either immediately or in the future," Morton wrote.
The idea of the interstate location — no specific site has been mentioned — also got pitched to commissioners at a meeting in early August. Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association, said a visitor center there would give the county a way to spread the word about everything Hernando has to offer from one end to the other.