More than 400 volunteers and city officials helped write the next chapter Saturday in the 85-year history of the Hacienda Hotel.
The throng of people swarmed the city-owned downtown landmark for the first Community Cleanup Day to spruce up the vacant structure. Laughter and conversations reverberated through the halls of the hotel for the first time since 2006, when a residential center for people with chronic mental health problems moved out.
Councilman Bill Phillips had a broad smile on his face. He was gratified by the response to the idea for the Hacienda cleanup he helped start. He donated the first $200 toward lunch for the volunteer crews.
"We never thought we'd get over 200 volunteers," Phillips commented. "And we had to start turning people away (last week) because we had over 350 people that wanted to come out and restore some of the luster to the Hacienda. So we're very pleased."
More cleanup days are planned in the months ahead, interim City Manager Susan Dillinger said, giving other residents a chance to help salvage the national landmark.
"It's an exciting day for New Port Richey," Dillinger said. "We really appreciate everything the community is doing."
The city's Community Redevelopment Agency bought the Hacienda in 2004 as part of a downtown improvement project that has since stalled.
A few months ago, city officials quit pinning their hopes on a developer, Community Development Partners, becoming the savior of the Mediterranean stucco-style landmark. As an alternative they adopted a grass-roots approach instead toward restoration.
Under the revised plan city officials hope local merchants might set up shop in the Hacienda or the gradual improvements to the building might entice another developer at some point in the future.
Builders, painters, roofers and other professionals tackled many tough projects.
Jeannine Humphrey, a member of Greater New Port Richey Main Street, concentrated on plucking some stubborn weeds that marred the yard near the courtyard entrance.
"This is our history and our culture," Councilman Bob Langford said.
In the lobby, Southern Pines Healthcare Center volunteers pushed brooms. Jackie Frisch and Aida Negron were surprised how dusty the hotel had become.
There was no shortage of chores, according to a list from Marilyn Mercado, executive assistant to the city manager. Workers were painting outside, cleaning all rooms and the kitchen, removing all carpeting, cleaning up of broken glass in the rooms and hallway, replacing the siding on the rear of the building and replacing the siding on the west side of the building and some framework.
The work also includes installing handrails on the north and south side of the building, replacing exterior door on the upstairs balcony, replacing wood under the windows on the second floor of the front of the building and landscaping.
Sponsors for the event were Boulevard Beef & Ale, Chick-fil-A, Christina's, Done Right Fire Gear Repair, Estella's, Karl Reef, Leaning Tower of Pizza, Mezzaluna, the Market off Main, Starbucks and Sweetbay Supermarket.
Dillinger said city officials worked tirelessly on preparations for the event, including Fire Chief Alex Onishenko, Building Official Mike German and Public Works Director Sherman Applegate.
A unique perspective came from volunteer Katy Jones, a teacher at Gulf Trace Elementary School who was cleaning windows on the second floor. A 20-year resident of New Port Richey, Jones previously spent six years in Portugal teaching at an international school.
"In Europe, there was such strict, strict ordinances you could never tear down a beautiful building," Jones reflected. "Here in America, we seem just to tear down buildings, without giving it a second thought."
"When I came to the United States from Portugal, my parents lived in town, and I saw this beautiful place," Jones continued about the hotel. "And I thought, wow, what's going on with it. At the time it was a mental health facility.
"It's nice to see the town coming together to fix this place up and make it the star of our city that it should be."