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Trust to buy land; state park to gain

A non-profit trust has signed an exclusive option to purchase the old Sea Wolf Restaurant property, paving the way for the possible reopening of the U.S. 19 entrance to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. The Trust for Public Lands has been negotiating for the property, a 12-acre tract owned by the Pappas family of Tarpon Springs, since January.

The trust purchases properties and then holds them until government agencies can buy them for some public purpose. And the state park service has been considering buying the Pappas land for over a year, in hopes of reopening the park entrance and establishing educational displays for visitors.

"I think it's super," said Tom Linley, manager of the park. "Each day brings us one step closer to owning the property and, likewise, one step closer to having our entrance back on U.S. 19."

The Trust for Public Lands now will complete surveys, audits and inspections. Closing on the sale could come in eight to 10 weeks, Linley said.

Officials at the park also have discussed various uses for the 22,300-square-foot former restaurant, including a multimedia education center to teach tourists about Florida wildlife, meeting areas, offices and a possible snack bar and gift shop in the future.

Linley said he hoped the entrance could be reopened by December. The state is trying to buy the property through the Preservation 2000 fund and money may be available later this year, he said.

Even if that purchase does not happen, Linley said he hopes to be able to negotiate with officials from the Trust for Public Land to reopen the docks and 180-space parking lot.

For many years, the restaurant served as the park's front entrance, providing a large parking area and a visible presence on well-traveled U.S. 19. At that time, visitors could park at the restaurant, buy their tickets to the park and then ride up to the Fishbowl Drive entrance from boats that left from below the restaurant.

After changes in restaurant ownership over the last few years and disputes about rental fees, the boat service and U.S. 19 park entrance closed.

No purchase price has been disclosed for the Pappas property, but park officials have said previously that the price tag was several million dollars.

"That land is now taken off the market for all practical purposes," precluding some other developer coming in and making that land into a commercial development, Linley said.