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Manager sees wildlife park as convention host

Park Manager Tom Linley hopes a new restaurant planned for the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park will make the park a sought-after site for small conventions and other gatherings.

The park fulfilled a long-term goal last month when it hired Pier Associates Inc. of Crestview to handle food operations throughout the park. The vendor's plans include opening a full-service restaurant on the second floor of the park's visitors center.

"With the Ramada next door, we can have a mini-convention center for those inside the community and those outside the community," Linley said.

Already, the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park has played host to the Florida Attraction Association's annual conference and a statewide meeting of assistant state park managers. Last spring, Crystal River High School held its prom at the park.

The attraction had hoped to have a full-service restaurant up and running by now, but plans fell through with a restaurateur hired in 1997 to do the job.

Now that Pier Associates has been hired, plans are under way to open the restaurant this year.

"They're hoping it will be operational a year from now," Linley said. "They're in the process of drawing up plans to do construction work."

Pier Associates is also responsible for managing the Wildside, the park's snack bar, and launching the use of food carts throughout the park.

But what has the park management excited is the potential for the restaurant, which will look over the Homosassa River from the second floor of the visitors center. After it has a restaurant and banquet facility, Linley said, the park should be a popular site for weddings and business conferences.

"Once they get going, we will be promoting more convention and meeting-type events," Linley said. "Right now, they're just trying to get their feet on the ground."