Mermaid park will remain open, for now

Monday, September 29, 2003

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. -- Weeki Wachee Springs will stay open, but its landlord will be keeping an eye on the venerable roadside attraction.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, after a marathon session last week, voted 7-2 to keep the park's lease in place. But the agency wants frequent reports on the park's efforts to make needed repairs and changes to keep it profitable.

The water agency's governing board agreed to keep the park afloat despite a report from its staff saying that Weeki Wachee's business plan wasn't realistic.

Weeki Wachee, once a jewel in the crown of pre-Disney Florida, has fallen on hard times in recent years. The group of investors who own the 56-year-old park donated it to the city of Weeki Wachee in August after failed attempts to sell it.

The city met a Sept. 15 deadline for submitting a business plan to the water district detailing how it planned to save the attraction and its world-famous mermaids.

Among other improvements and changes, the city said it intends to hook the park's sewers to the Hernando County sewage system, add concerts and events to generate more revenue, upgrade computer systems to simplify accounting, and develop its scuba diving program to attract more people using the spring.

Weeki Wachee's underwater show, which featured young women breathing compressed air while somersaulting through choreographed routines, debuted in 1947 and entertained as many as 1 million visitors a year.

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