Advertisement
  1. News

Failure of Hernando's Nature Coast tourism center has lessons

Hernando Beach residents pack the County Commission chambers at the County Government Center in Brooksville on June 24, 2014 to protest the rezoning proposal to build the Nature Coast education and tourism center next to the Blue Pelican Marina along Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach.
Published Jan. 22, 2015

HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon wanted it to be the centerpiece of what he called "the Nature Coast experience."

But after 10 months of controversy and changes in direction, none of which caught on, the Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center ended up more like the "brilliant blunder," as one critic called it during the debate.

Earlier this month, a unanimous County Commission voted to tell the state to keep the $3 million the Legislature had allocated for the project last spring. That allows the county to keep the $3 million in local funds it had promised as a match.

What happened? There were several factors, those involved say, and plenty of lessons to be learned from the experience.

"It turns out that not everyone thought it was a great idea, for various reasons,'' Sossamon said. "For some, it was environmental reasons, and for others, economic and financial reasons.''

Figuring that tourism was Florida's No. 1 business, he said, "it just looked like an opportunity to me to provide the citizens of Hernando County a new venue for tourism and recreation.''

One of the early plans included a beach, and Sossamon noted that large-scale beaches aren't available to the community now. Still, he said, "unfortunately maybe we didn't think far enough ahead in terms of how the public … would perceive it.''

Originally proposed to be part of a controversial rezoning at Blue Pelican Marina in Hernando Beach, the education center got stripped from the Shoal Line Boulevard location in a public hearing. Then it was proposed for the Weekiwachee Preserve, followed by the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and finally for an east-side location at Interstate 75 and State Road 50 before landing back beside the preserve on the old Hernando Beach water tower site owned by the county.

Commissioner Diane Rowden favored the east Hernando location. Cost, both upfront and ongoing, was the big factor for commissioners Jim Adkins, Nick Nicholson and Jeff Holcomb.

"I think the lesson here is to be able to do as much research as possible prior to making requests of our state legislators. We should do our best to have location, plans and costs defined as best we can,'' Holcomb said.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes told the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association last week that he saw the decision to send the money back as "an opportunity lost,'' but noted that he voted with the rest of commissioners, "rather than showing disharmony on the board."

Dukes' business relationship with the marina owner and his admissions of working with him for months before the rezoning on an overall vision for improvements in Hernando Beach earned him sharp criticism from neighbors opposed to the rezoning.

Hernando Beach resident Jude Simpson said that giving the money back was the right move.

The project was "vague and undefined in the beginning, and there was no community input in the planning stages,'' she noted.

The awarding of the funding was also not transparent, she said, and "no one familiar with the coastal environment would have ever put it in the filled wetlands'' at Blue Pelican Marina.

Simpson and dozens of others also opposed placing the center in the Weekiwachee Preserve.

"It was definitely over the top in its design, and there was a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation of the type of environment it was supposed to educate people about,'' Simpson said.

"This was the worst kind of Tallahassee pork barrel project. It was unrequested, unneeded and would have artificially accelerated the damage to the environment and the Weekiwachee Preserve and destroyed the quality of life in unique, isolated and tranquil residential Hernando Beach,'' said Forrest Bennett, who rallied hundreds of his neighbors to write letters and pack a half-dozen public meetings on the topic.

"Rule No. 1 is, you don't protect the environment by crassly exploiting it," said Bennett, formerly a member of the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee. "Artificially created industrial tourism leads to the decline of the very thing the county was claiming to embrace.''

Ron Wolf, brother of Blue Pelican Marina owner Gordon Wolf, was disgusted with the county's decisions on the education center placement.

"It's just the nature of this county,'' he said, calling local politicians "wishy-washy" and criticizing them for making a decision based on the opinions of vocal critics.

"The majority of the people were in favor of moving Hernando Beach ahead. There were just half a dozen bent against it. … They just get off on making trouble,'' Wolf said. "The whole thing is just sad. Giving the money back is sad. No nature center is sad. It's just a sad, sad story.''

Tammy Heon, the county's tourism coordinator, expressed disappointment that the education and tourism center wasn't going to happen, but said the county will find "a different track'' to provide environmental education.

As for the reasons the Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center failed, Heon said, "The location was 99 percent of the issue. The ticking clock (for spending the money) was definitely part of the challenge. A $6 million project doesn't happen overnight.''

She said that commissioners did their job.

"I think the commission voted the will of the community,'' Heon said. "They listened to their constituents. You can't fault them for that.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. The family of the 28-year-old black woman who was shot and killed by a white police officer in her Fort Worth home as she played video games with her 8-year-old nephew expressed outrage that the officer has not been arrested or fired. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP) AP
    The white, former Fort Worth police officer has been booked in jail on a murder charge for the shooting of a black woman through a window in her home.
  2. Tikerria Nashay Bell, 21, was arrested on a charge of attempted murder. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    She fled with their 18-month-old daughter, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
  3. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    Police say it appears the girl was accidentally left inside the Jeep on Monday morning.
  4. The Tampa Bay Times' annual Medicare Guide explains how the program is set up, helps you compare options available in the Tampa Bay area, and points the way toward help, including free, one-on-one assistance. This illustration will grace the cover of LifeTimes on Oct. 23, when the guide will be published in print. RON BORRESEN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    As the open enrollment period begins, it’s time to review your coverage.
  5. The Medicare Handbook for 2020 is a good resource to have as the annual open enrollment period gets under way. The government usually mails beneficiaries a copy. Find a PDF version to print at medicare.gov/pub/medicare-you-handbook, or call 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE) to order a copy. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The open enrollment period, which lasts into December, is a time for millions of beneficiaries to review, and possibly change, their coverage.
  6. Medicare's online Plan Finder has been redesigned and is available at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. THOMAS TOBIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The most-used tool on Medicare.gov will look different this year.
  7. Jim Tolbert, left, staffs a booth at a senior expo for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, a state program that answers Medicare and other insurance questions. The program has scheduled a number of events around the Tampa Bay area during Medicare's open enrollment period, Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. Times (2015)
    About 500 volunteers statewide are at the ready. They work for Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders, or SHINE, now in its 28th year.
  8. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The Fort Myers woman stepped in front of the plane and was struck.
  9. James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    James Dailey’s execution remains set for Nov. 7. On Monday, a judge denied efforts to overturn his death sentence after a former prosecutor testified.
  10. Investigators are collecting evidence at the scene of a fatal stabbing on the 4000 block of 68th Street N. The victim was trying to break into a house, the Sheriff's Office said. KATHRYN VARN   |   TIMES  |  Kathryn Varn
    The dead man had sneaked out of a group home a block away. It’s unlikely charges will be filed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement