F. Blake Longacre tagged along one day as his friend Norman Blake, a University of South Florida marine science professor, trekked up to Citrus County to look in on the scallop-restocking efforts.
"I actually went up there with him to check out the scallop barge and enjoy the Homosassa area," Longacre said. "I ended up falling in love with it just like everybody else that goes there does."
The Clearwater-based time share developer also made a key contact on that day in 1998: local Realtor Kevin Cunningham, who has worked with the USF professor to restore the dwindling scallop population off the Gulf of Mexico.
The two chatted about their jobs, and Cunningham asked Longacre whether he considered building his next development in Citrus County.
"One thing led to another, and (Cunningham) said, "Let me show you a piece of property,' " Longacre said. "I looked at (the 11-acre site now proposed for Halls River Retreat) and said, "This is too beautiful not to give it a shot.' "
So began the plans for the proposed 63-condominium project coming before the County Commission on Tuesday evening.
Property records do not show how much of a commission Cunningham made when he brokered the sale of the $528,000 waterfront property to Longacre. Longacre said he did not know what Cunningham's fee was; Cunningham was out of town late last week and could not be reached for comment.
But Kevin and Karen Cunningham, have a continuing interest in it: Karen Cunningham, also a Realtor, is listed in promotional materials as the "exclusive" contact for sales of the $80,000 and $90,000 time shares.
Longacre, 49, may be new to Citrus County, but he is an old hand in the time share industry.
Born and raised in Winter Haven, Longacre graduated from Florida Southern College and became a certified public accountant. He worked for a short while for the accounting firm of Cherry, Bekaert & Holland in St. Petersburg before jumping into the time share industry in 1981.
Longacre spent the 1980s with Aqua Sun, a group that developed 10 time share resorts in Daytona Beach, Orlando, the Bahamas and Canada. He left that company in 1988 and partnered with David Morritt to open Morritt's Tortuga Club, a time share in the Cayman Islands.
By 1999, Longacre was devoting much of his time to designing Halls River Retreat, his proposed time share project in Citrus County, and he decided to sell his Tortuga Club holdings to Morritt.
Longacre returned in the spring of 2000 to work for Aqua Sun, a company owned by Canadian Bill Carlson. He now serves as the company's general manager.
Earlier this year, the state Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes began investigating consumer complaints against Aqua Sun, which still manages the 10 time shares it developed.
The Traders Inn Beach Club Condominium Association in Ormond Beach filed a nine-page complaint in September alleging that Aqua Sun charged the association thousands of dollars in new management fees last fall. When the association balked and refused to pay, Aqua Sun allegedly cut itself an unauthorized $40,878 check out of the Traders Inn bank account.
At a special membership meeting in August, Traders Inn time share owners voted 1,247 to 17 to sever their management contract with Aqua Sun. But Aqua Sun officials have said the election was invalid and they refuse to leave.
A similar controversy is emerging at the Georgian Inn Beach Club in Daytona Beach, where Aqua Sun allegedly charged the condominium association $100,000 in additional management fees last fall, according to notes in the state investigator's file. Time share owners there will vote Nov. 30 on whether to oust Aqua Sun.
Longacre describes the skirmishes as "management contract disputes" and declined to comment further.
"It's not my business. I just work for them," Longacre said. "I wouldn't be at liberty to talk about that."
But Longacre did say his experience at Aqua Sun, overseeing about 1,000 employees and managing time shares owned by more than 40,000 people, has prepared him for running Halls River Retreat, if the County Commission approves the project.
Halls River Retreat is a 75-25 partnership between Longacre and Mary Leisner, a Lutz veterinarian who devotes much of her practice to treating injured wildlife. Aqua Sun has no stake in the project.
While he may stay on with Aqua Sun if the Halls River project moves forward, Longacre said he would hang his hat in Homosassa.
"Halls River is the place that I'm going to be camping out at," he said. "It's a place I like to be, and hopefully other people like what I like."
_ Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.