NEW PORT RICHEY — The pace of the restoration project for the historic Hacienda hotel landmark is picking up speed as city officials might expedite choosing a developer by next month.
A June 20 deadline is looming for Florida Motel owner Abraham Rosner. He once again traveled some four hours to stress urgency before City Council on Tuesday night.
The firm has set aside cash reserves for the Hacienda project, Rosner explained. But he might have to disperse those funds after June 20 to invest in other projects.
Mayor Rob Marlowe suggested a June 10 workshop for the council to discuss a few thorny issues. For instance, it’s unclear if the city would retain ownership of the landmark building, which it bought in 2004.
Council could possibly choose a contractor by the June 17 regular meeting.
“This is a top priority,” Councilman Jeff Starkey commented about renovating and reopening the Hacienda landmark at Main and Bank streets in downtown New Port Richey.
The city already assembled its own team of staff members to pursue minor fixes and patches to the 1920s-era building to prevent further deterioration until a contractor can get up to full speed. Council members this week authorized up to $50,000 for the team, led by Mario Iezzoni, the city’s economic development manager.
Plus, state lawmakers here secured a $1 million grant toward fixing up the Hacienda, but officials are waiting to see if Gov. Rick Scott might veto the appropriation.
After that, council members figured they would choose between two companies that submitted qualifications to handle the project, Florida Motel and Legacy Lodging.
Executives of Legacy, based in Birmingham, Ala., have said they would seek new market and historical tax credits to get the project off the ground.
In January, Rosner said he was planning to forgo tax credits and raise private capital to get the Hacienda project off to a much faster start. He would leverage his hands-on methods used for a hotel project in Yulee, Fla., where he has resided throughout construction.
“Any further delays in rendering a decision very soon could jeopardize our commitment to this project,” Rosner said Tuesday night.
Rosner repeated that he could reopen the Hacienda within 18 to 24 months as a boutique hotel.
“Our intention is to turn this into a profitable venture,” Rosner remarked, while keeping the historical nature of the building.
Keeping the charm and quaintness of the Hacienda is “critical,” Council- woman Judy DeBella Tho-mas emphasized. That could be another topic at the June 10 workshop.
Completed in 1927, the Spanish-style luxury hotel attracted silent screen stars such as Thomas Meighan and Gloria Swanson. The intention was to create the “Hollywood of the East” in New Port Richey.
“This is going to define downtown,” Councilman Bill Phillips said. The ownership question looms large in his mind.
Thanks largely to the recession, the original developer failed to obtain financing to renovate the Hacienda over some five years, Marlowe recalled.
Councilman Chopper Davis questioned if Legacy is all that interested, judging from spotty communications. He was ready to rank Florida Motel as the top choice.
Council members need to “draw a line in the sand,” Phillips agreed about choosing a developer.
However, council mem- bers should wait until Debbie Manns starts June 2 as the new city manager, interim City Manager Susan Dillinger recommended. Manns specialized in development while working for other cities.
Council members asked for an agenda item at the June 3 meeting concerning the request for qualifications from the two firms. A final decision could be possible at the June 17 meeting.