Terry Green and friends were so sure the stars would not align for a Homosassa waterfront park that they kept the entire process under wraps — for nearly five years.
But it all worked out when the Homosassa Civic Club, of which Green is president, secured a $1.4 million state grant to buy about 2 acres of land along the river next to MacRae’s of Homosassa for development of the Old Homosassa Heritage Park and Working Waterfront.
“We were never confident we were going to get it,” Green said of the funding. “We’ve had the rug pulled out from us before. We kept quiet. Now we can talk about it.”
The concept from a handful of residents in 2015 seemed simple enough. Homosassa is a working waterfront community, but with no access to the river other than the public boat ramp at MacRae’s.
They formed an Access to the River Committee, later changed to the heritage park committee, and started looking for potential sites and ways to pay for it.
The group zeroed in on two parcels: The Locklar property next to MacRae’s, and the former Sportsman's Cove near the Homosassa water tower off Yulee Drive. Locklar’s property was for sale; Sportsman’s Cove was not.
Community leaders looked to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who at the time owned a weekend home in Homosassa. Simpson and Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, were able to include $850,000 in the state budget to help buy the property, but they needed more.
That financial help never came. County commissioners agreed to assist the group in applying for grants to match the state funds, and the Homosassa park project was also considered for funding from RESTORE, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill proceeds.
But rules complicated the matter. The RESTORE funds would have required the county to own the property and, if it did, officials said they couldn’t guarantee a fish house business on site could remain.
After that, Homosassa leaders went a different route.
At Simpson’s suggestion, the group sought a grant from the Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts through the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. The grant, named for a deceased state legislator, is designed to protect working waterfront property from being developed commercially.
“We got the application and when I first looked at it, it was very daunting to say the least,” Green said. "I was able to sift through most of it. Roger Cullen and early members of the committee had so much information and documentation. That's the lion’s share of the hard work. It was just a matter of coordinating it all.”
Cullen, one of the group’s original members, said it was important that whatever was planned would include Shelly’s Seafood and Fish Market and commercial boat slips that occupy the property.
“We always wanted Shelly’s and the boats to stay here,” he said.
It will be a passive park — walking trails, benches, kiosks. No swimming, boating or boat trailer parking.
“The emphasis is on preservation and education,” Green said.
The property includes an 80-year-old Cracker-style house that will remain as a maritime museum, Green said.
Green said income generated from the seafood house and boat slips will pay for the improvements needed there, such as tie in the county’s sewer and providing electricity to the docks.
The grant contract includes a caveat that, if the Homosassa Civic Club ceases to exist, the county will take the property temporarily until the DEP could step in.
Green, who said club membership has swelled from a couple dozen to about 150, said he doubts that will be an issue.
He expects Old Homosassa to embrace the park.
“All we’ve heard,” he said, “are positives.”