At Silver Springs, more plans than money
How to fill the $2.3 million gap?
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
State environmental regulators have crafted an extensive list of projects to overhaul Silver Springs.
Returning the famous attraction to a "much more natural condition," as the agency said in a report on the transition to state management, entails among other things tearing out and removing structures, some general sprucing up, and rehabilitating the key asset that informs people about the waterway: the famous glass-bottomed boats.
Yet converting "Nature's Theme Park" to a state park — or at least the one the state Department of Environmental Protection envisions — will take about $2 million more than the state will get from the current operator.
State records indicate that the DEP should be able to complete a big chunk of its wish list with the $4 million that has been committed to the effort.
That was how much Palace Entertainment promised to spend on internal improvements at the attraction in buying out the remaining 16 years of its lease, a deal unanimously approved in January by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet.
According to the amended lease, Palace will vacate the park on Sept. 30 after operating it for 11 years.
But the state's list of desired improvements comes to about $6.3 million, records indicate, and it's unclear where the state will get the rest of the money.
DEP officials were asked about strategies to fund the remaining $2.3 million, but were still working on a response late Tuesday.
Examined individually, about a quarter of what Palace pledged could pay for Ross Allen Island, named for the legendary herpetologist who made grappling alligators and milked rattlesnakes among the stars at the attraction for nearly a half century.
Fixing that piece of Silver Springs — and the gateway to it — to the state's liking will consume about $1.04 million, records show.
Demolishing the structures in that part of the park amounts to nearly $279,000.
To be targeted are the amphitheaters, the housing for the snake and exotic-bird displays, the Jungle Cruise dock and related structures, and other buildings in that section deemed nonessential by the DEP.
The state also seeks a new boardwalk and new bridges to the island that will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The cost for that work is about $749,000.
And the DEP wants to rid that part of the park of plants that are not native to the area — another $12,415 expense.
In analyzing the takeover from Palace, records show, the DEP's first priority is assessing the amount of lead paint and asbestos in Silver Springs' buildings, some of which date to the 1950s.
The estimated cost for that is $166,200, and includes removing the toxins and rehabilitating those facilities the DEP intends to hang on to, such as the administration hub and the Cypress Building, once a favored site for receptions, meetings and exhibits.
From there, the state wants to clear Silver Springs of any dilapidated or unwanted structures.
Besides those at Ross Allen Island, state officials have designated a number of other buildings as non-essential and thus fit for demolition.
Among the sites on that roster are the giraffe barn, the bear and panther exhibits and buildings, the Kids Ahoy playground and assorted enclosures. The cost for all of that will run about $376,000.
The DEP's to-do list has identified almost $1.5 million in improvements to the main administration building, known as the Town Center; the Cypress Building; the ice cream shop, which will be remade into an expanded restroom; the boathouse; and Twin Oaks Mansion, the location of the park's concerts.
The project list covers new ADA-compliant amenities at several sites, a new air-conditioning system and roof for the Cypress Building, stabilizing and renovating the main boathouse and rehabilitating the eight glass-bottomed boats, which itself is estimated at $540,000.
The state also seeks to erect new perimeter fencing fronting State Road 40 and clean up some of the existing stock, replace the boardwalk at the park's entrance, and cart off miscellaneous "junk."
Palace is responsible for removing the Lighthouse Ride and relocating the animals, most of which are gone.
The state's plan also outlines moves to address the drainage, sewage and water distribution systems at Silver Springs and Wild Waters.
More than $1 million is to be spent on developing plans to improve stormwater control in the parking lots of both parks as well as installing a new water line, inspecting and cleaning existing ones, replacing pumps and control panels, and adding fire hydrants.
The DEP has pegged the cost of one of its core environmental initiatives to improve the health of Silver Springs' water at nearly $445,000.
That will go toward tearing out asphalt at various parking lots and picnic areas around the grounds and repaving and refurbishing those sites.
Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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