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Social Revival

The management of the Homosassa Riverside Resort hopes to make the place a center of social life once again.

The Homosassa Riverside Resort bears a new name and brings a new look to the former site of the Yardarm Restaurant and Riverside Inn hotel.

The Riverside sits on a beautiful bend of the Homosassa, and the renovations to the restaurant and lounge open both rooms to a majestic scene. The big bend just upriver is a favorite of the local dolphins, and, of course, Monkey Island still features the monkeys and their comical antics.

The restaurant, Charlie Brown's Crab House, is now on the bottom floor, and the lounge will be upstairs.

Local restaurant visitors should recognize the chef's name. Brown is one of the finest seafood chefs in Citrus County, having worked at Misty River and K.C. Crump's. His extensive knowledge of local seafood will be an asset to the crab house.

The restaurant will open Monday, Brown said.

"We'll bring the crabs out in buckets and let people eat them on butcher paper. It's a real casual atmosphere and menu," Brown said.

Upstairs, the new lounge is built around a massive oak and copper curved bar, with an impressive view of the river and Monkey Island.

The Riverside is once again under local management, though the owners are based in Indiana. Hotel manager Gail Oakes lives directly across the river and often rides a personal watercraft to work. Oakes said she intends to restore the Riverside as the social center of Homosassa.

"Over the years, there have been so many weddings, anniversaries and special events held here," she said. "That sort of went away, but we want to bring it back."

The mothballing of the banquet rooms was one of the reasons for the demise of local celebrations at the Riverside, Oakes said. The banquet rooms will re-open and can be partitioned for smaller gatherings or opened to the 700-seat full capacity.

The Riverside has suffered mismanagement over the past decade. Several restaurants that leased the premises from the prior owner, Dr. Donald Vesley, came and went with little or no success. Most recently, the Howard Johnson hotel chain purchased the hotel and sold it for about $4-million to Indiana businessmen Donald Coller and Ron Hooker.

In addition to renovating the lounge and restaurant, the Riverside Resort is going to build a two-story outdoor tiki bar, pending zoning approval from the county, Oakes said.

Another major change under way is rebuilding the docks into a Key West-style marina with 70 boat slips. A dive shop and fishing pier will also be included.

"In the center, we'll have permanent stations for fishing guides, as a service to our guests," Oakes said. "We've already had lots of interest from local guides who want to set up there."

Once all the improvements are finished, which should be by November, Oakes said she wants people in the community to once again feel they have a center for their special occasions. She also wants the 77-room hotel to be a stop for tourists.

"There are so many people who visit the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park," she said. "We want them to come over and spend a few days with us after they leave the park."