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NPR could level former church to aid sale of land

Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2013 at 03:39 AM

Property that could have been transformed into upscale housing units, a multipurpose cultural center or retail stores, the former downtown home of First Baptist Church of New Port Richey, could soon become just an empty lot.

The city will hold a voluntary walk-through of the structures at 6561 Circle Blvd., across from Orange Lake, on June 18 for contractors interested in bidding on the demolition of the church and four single-family residential units on the site.

After more than four years of seeing potential developers come and go, New Port Richey Mayor Scott McPherson said, razing the former church is now in the city's best bet to spur new interest in the land.

"Having a somewhat dilapidated building there makes it less marketable because any developer that will eventually come in will have to deal with (demolishing) everything themselves," he said. "If we can get some grant money, which I understand is available, and have it (demolished), then it just makes the property more marketable."

The city's redevelopment manager, Caprena Latimore, said that five contractors have said they will attend next week's walk-through. Once bids are submitted, the selection process will go before City Council, sitting as the board of the New Port Richey Community Redevelopment Agency, for review.

The city purchased the former church property for $3.122 million in December 2005, after the First Baptist Church moved to its new home on Trouble Creek Road.

The deal was made at the height of the condominium building craze in Florida. Around the same time the city bought the historic former Hacienda Hotel building, which is a block away from the church property.

At the time, when it appeared as if a wave of development and redevelopment was about to sweep across downtown, city officials wanted to control the future of the 2.88-acre property and its roughly 51,000 square feet of building space. The subsequent collapse of the Florida construction and real estate markets and the onset of the recession derailed the downtown development plans.

The latest proposal to do something with the former church land fell through earlier this year. The Cleveland-based NRP Group, a builder of low-to-moderate-income housing, suggested it might buy the land and build a senior housing development on it. The city, however, has had no communications with NRP Group since January.

City officials don't have definite ideas on what they want done with the land once it is cleared, Latimore said.

Lisa Fierce, the city's planning and zoning division manager, said the issue should be part of a downtown master plan meeting to likely come after budget season this fall.

The estimated cost to clear the land is greater than $100,000. City officials hope to pay for much of the demolition work with Community Development Block Grant money.

In addition to removing the deteriorating, vacant structures on the property to foster renewed vigor in attracting development, the city would save about $2,000 to $2,500 a month in maintenance and upkeep costs. According to Latimore, the area has become a haven for the homeless and the scene of vandalism and other crimes that cost the city in terms of police or public works staff hours.

Although seeing the former church building and its towering steeple demolished would be sad, McPherson said, it is the right thing to do. "From a business point of view and the point of view of what's best for the city, in my opinion, demolishing it would be the way to go."

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