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NPR eager to proceed on Sims Park upgrades

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Published:   |   Updated: May 16, 2014 at 03:09 PM

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Improvements to Sims Park could at last come off the drawing board and begin construction in months ahead, city officials believe.

New Port Richey City Council members expressed eagerness Tuesday night to get the first phase of the park overhaul rolling.

Architects unveiled the rough draft of the park plan last August. Council members saw the revised version of a three-prong master plan Tuesday night and committed at least $1.8 million toward the initial upgrades.

“Do-able” was a key word most council members used to describe the plan.

Among first-phase priorities, the playground would be moved to the north end of the enlarged Sims Park, away from traffic on Main Street.

“It gets the playground out of harm’s way,” Mayor Rob Marlowe said.

Youngsters could gain splash pads in which to frolic, among other additions.

The deadline for a $200,000 grant toward the playground falls in December 2015, interim City Manager Susan Dillinger reported.

The relocation of the playground would require closing a section of Grand Boulevard along the existing, northern boundary of the park. Circle Boulevard could revert to two-way traffic since the plan shuts off part of the loop. City staff told council members a traffic study could be expedited.

At some point, Peace Hall would move from its current spot next to the West Pasco Historical Society Rao Musunuru. M.D., Museum and Library, to the east side of Orange Lake to make more room for the enlarged park.

More shade is another high priority. “We must include a shade element” in the early stages, Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas said. Trees could provide more cover for visitors.

“You melt right now,” Marlowe said about the expansive unshaded grassy field in the current park. Council members particularly liked the idea for a retractable canopy to provide additional shade as necessary.

Councilman Bill Phillips drew up his list of essential elements. It includes more shade, revamped playground and closing a section of Grand.

Not all suggestions from architects will make the cut in the first phase, council members determined. Tony Huggins, CEO and senior partner of Tampa-based JAH Architects LLC, said the plan was made adaptable so city leaders could subtract or delay features. The complete set of upgrades in the first phase could cost as much as $2.865 million.

Council members agreed and held off on building the gateway.

A pedestrian bridge over Main Street also did not get priority among the initial changes. It could come later.

The second phase could cost another $2.86 million, Huggins noted. The third phase would be the most expensive, at $6.6 million, since it would include a parking garage.

New Port Richey’s share of the Penny for Pasco sales tax should provide about $1.6 million a year, according to Finance Director Peter Altman.

Community Development Block Grants could be another source, Altman said.

“Just get moving,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said about Sims Park construction.

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