NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials first allowed alcohol sales and consumption for special events at Sims Park. Then they allowed beer and wine at the former church sanctuary now known as Peace Hall in some instances.
Some city leaders and residents, however, were determined Tuesday night to draw a line at allowing alcohol at private parties at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center.
Alcohol and pool-side events especially do not mix, David Schrader testified during the City Council work session. Schrader leads the city parks and recreation advisory board. Events can attract hundreds of people to the center, he noted.
Several people cited how events with alcohol had multiplied at Sims Park.
“I feel Mr. Sims would turn over in his grave” if he could see liquor allowed in the park, Betty Black, secretary to the parks and recreation advisory board, said.
New Port Richey founder George Sims donated the land for the park that bears his name to the city in the early 1920s.
“You have us confused with a country club,” Black remarked. “We are a family-oriented community.”
Former Councilman Rob Marlowe echoed her sentiments. Marlowe is a candidate for mayor in the April 8 municipal election.
“Think real long and hard” before opening the door to alcohol at the recreation center, Marlowe urged council members.
“It never hurts to have a conversation,” Councilman Bill Phillips said about the reason for the discussion at Tuesday’s City Council work session.
The recreation center never brings in enough revenue to balance its budget, Phillips said. Perhaps a limited number of parties with alcohol could boost revenue.
The New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center re-opened its doors in 2007 after nearly $15 million in renovation and expansion. In recent years, city officials have been looking for ways to make the center more financially self-sustaining.
Councilman Chopper Davis said much more information would be needed before considering allowing alcohol at the recreation center. He wondered what types of private parties would even be feasible if the center rents space for special occasions, perhaps corporate parties or wedding receptions.
Michael Speidel, the recreation manager at the center, said the department can research if other cities boosted revenues with private events that serve beer and wine.
Mayor Bob Consalvo recalled his days as parks and recreation director. In the 1970s, the recreation center would allow some limited festivities at which alcohol was allowed, but the center was a “mess” the next day.
No public facility in the state makes money, emphasized Consalvo, who is not seeking re-election. Most recreation centers bring in enough revenue to pay 35 percent to 40 percent of their budgets. The New Port Richey facility pays for nearly half of its budget through various fees.
Councilman Jeff Starkey said adding more child care should be a higher priority for the recreation center. Many parents want someone to watch their offspring while the parents work out in the fitness center, he figures.