NEW PORT RICHEY — Seeking to curb crime, vagrancy and chronic nuisances in the city, New Port Richey City Council members want to close the overlook tower at the Main Street bridge as a first step.
“It’s sending the wrong message,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said Tuesday night about allowing vagrants to sleep in the highly visible downtown tower, adding, “It looks like an ashtray in there.”
Named after golf pro Gene Sarazen, who lived and worked in the city in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Gene Sarazen River Overlook stands near the entrance to Sims Park. The structure at the foot of the bridge over the Pithlachascotee River often is one of the first landmarks seen by visitors to the city, officials fretted.
Some council members want to put up some form of fence at the tower and more “no loitering” signs.
“Sooner the better,” Starkey said.
City park employees can lock the tower at the end of their shift each day, Councilman Chopper Davis suggested.
Police Chief Kim Bogart said estimated prices are being collected on fencing or other ways to blockade the tower. Other ideas include changing the timing for lighting at the park. Volunteer park rangers are another option.
Four signs at Sims Park indicate the park closes at night, Bogart said. Many open areas don’t provide sufficient notice to visitors about hours of the park.
In related developments, several artists have expressed interest in renting space within the Sarazen Overlook during the day, Parks and Recreation Director Elaine Smith announced. The city this summer began allowing vendors in parks.
Also, special magistrates will begin hearing nuisance cases Oct. 2, city staff members reported. The magistrates will handle chronic nuisance cases after three instances of crimes or disturbances in the same spot.
The nuisance abatement ordinance “gives you quite a bit of leverage,” Bogart told council members.
Starkey encouraged frequent updates about anti-crime efforts to encourage concerned residents.
During a Sept. 4 meeting, more than a dozen residents asked officials to take action against what they believe is escalating crime in the city. A bullet fired into a home along Grand Boulevard had galvanized the residents. Authorities were uncertain if the bullet was fired by accident or intentionally.
The residents demanded changes to “take back the city,” as Chuck Grey and others put it.
Many volunteered to serve on crime watch groups or patrols. Bogart said he is eager to establish volunteer programs, but he has concentrated first on hiring and training to bring the police department back to full strength.