Silver Springs Nature Park Overhaul Brings Mixed Reviews From Tourists

Florida’s Silver Springs Nature Park is undergoing some major changes after being turned over to the state. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection now oversees the park, and has put more than $4 million into repairs and renovations for the site.

One of the biggest challenges in updating the park is balancing the department’s goals of environmental preservation with the public’s desire to maintain some of the existing attractions and overall culture of the park. Until recently, the park operated both as a nature park and a zoo for many exotic animals, including bears, emus and llamas. The removal of the animals was a decision by the state, choosing not to act as part of the zoo business. The only remnants of the park’s exotic animal era are the hundreds of rhesus monkeys that roam the park, now free from captivity.

The choice to remove the many animal attractions from the park in favor of a more natural, preserve type environment has been met with skepticism from tourists, many of whom have been coming to the park for years or even generations. Many patrons fear that with the removal of the zoo animals and other attractions, the park will not offer the amount of entertainment and will therefore be less of a draw to tourists. However, Marion County Commissioner Carl Zalak, who advocated for the public acquisition of the park, believes that it will be a renewed opportunity for eco-tourism. He also sees the park being used for activities such as swimming and zip-lining, and he hopes to open it for other attractions, such as car shows and festivals. 


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Nick Banks

Nick created Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group in 2002 and spent the first eight years developing and acquiring office and retail projects in South Florida as well as North Central Florida. In 2010 the focus of the firm was shifted to primarily serve third party clients and perform brokerage, property management and mortgage banking functions. Nick has personally developed and acquired nearly 200,000 square feet of office and retail properties in markets throughout Florida. Prior to founding Front Street, Nick was the Director of Finance and Dispositions for Stiles Corporation in Fort Lauderdale where he financed and sold over $500 million in commercial real estate. Before joining Stiles, Nick was an Associate Director at GE Capital Real Estate where he sourced over $200 million in financing throughout Florida. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Finance and a concentration in Real Estate. He serves as a board member and current vice-chair for the United Way of North Central Florida where he also chairs the Development Committee. Nick is actively involved with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce where he serves as a board member and committee member for the Council for Economic Outreach. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Gainesville which is a year long leadership program hosted by the Chamber. He is a member of Grace United Methodist Church where he has served as finance chair and as a member of the leadership council. Nick serves as an advisory board member of the University of Florida Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. Nick was recently named chair of the Gainesville committee for the North Florida chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI). He is a licensed real estate broker in the State of Florida and is a long time member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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