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Economic rebound could boost NPR revitalization

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Trends are much more positive in 2014 toward revitalizing not only the Hacienda hotel, but several downtown areas, according to Mario Iezzoni, New Port Richey’s economic development director.

The recession stalled city-led efforts to reshape New Port Richey. After paying top dollar for many downtown properties, city officials watched in dismay as property values plummeted during the financial calamity.

With the local economy once again gaining traction, Iezzoni believes the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency will play a “critical” role.

Iezzoni hopes to dispel the notions of “gloom and doom” that have been hanging over the CRA since about 2011. At the time, city officials were concerned CRA debt payments would become so high that money would have to be borrowed from the general fund.

An outside audit raised the CRA debt warning flag.

“I don’t think that’s the case,” Iezzoni said Monday.

Although the CRA is laden with debt, Iezzoni and other city leaders are talking with banks about lowering interest rates or some form of refinancing on bonds to free up money in the CRA budget. The city wants to avoid penalties for any early payoff of bonds.

The city needs the CRA to leverage business incentives, Iezzoni said. The agency had a very successful business façade program, for instance.

While redevelopment focuses on the Hacienda, a developer likely would try to incorporate nearby properties, such as the former Spoonbill’s restaurant across from the Hacienda on the north side of Main Street at the foot of the bridge.

Main Street Landing could remain at a standstill for now until other developments help stimulate demand, Iezzonisaid. The façade of the riverfront structure at Main Street and River Road was finished in 2013, but work remains to be done on the interior. While condos on the top floors of the building could attract tenants, renting the retail space of the building is still “challenging.”

The city could try again to seek proposals in 2014 to build on the vacant lot across from Orange Lake at the corner of Circle Boulevard and Central Avenue, Iezzoni said.

For a heavenly sum, city officials snapped up the property where the former First Baptist Church of New Port Richey stood just before the economy tanked during the recession.

The vacant church sat for years in vain hopes of renovating it into some sort of community center or finding a buyer. Finally, the city razed the crumbling church structure in summer 2010 so the vacant land would be more attractive to potential developers.

The proposal a few years ago for townhouses at Residences at Orange Lake seem to answer the prayers of city officials. However, enthusiasm over the concept has cooled since the city and potential developer never agreed on how many homes to build there.

This also could be the year to find new uses for the former post office at 6345 Grand Blvd. Residents and city leaders cleaned up the site on April 27.

At first thought, city officials considered a business incubator at the site where fledgling firms could rent office space and get other help.

On second thought, Iezzoni would prefer to see a business accelerator among the options for the post office building. The operation would cater to existing small businesses that have endured tribulations after several years of startup costs.

In addition, Iezzoni said, he was amazed how much money he saved from commuting costs after he left his post as a business instructor at the University of South Florida to take the job with the city. He sees New Port Richey marketing itself for back-office operations of major corporations, using more affordable office space to lure tenants.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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