NEW PORT RICHEY — In the long annals of Hacienda hotel history, this week brought some of the best news for the historic landmark since its opening 87 years ago.
New Port Richey officials confirmed the city will get $1 million in state funding toward restoration of the city-owned structure at Main and Bank streets. Gov. Rick Scott decided not to veto the money in the state budget that takes effect July 1.
Then city council members Tuesday night designated Florida Motel Inc. as its go-to choice as the developer to renovate the Hacienda.
The other contender, Legacy Lodging, did not respond to city requests for information and has essentially dropped out of the running at this point, officials determined.
Questions still linger, however, over the city's long-delayed goal to reopen the Hacienda as a boutique hotel, council members conceded.
A June 10 work session is supposed to help clarify the current value of the Hacienda and whether the city would sell the building to the developer. Florida Motel executives hoped to sign a contract by June 20.
The Hacienda had fallen on hard times by the 1980s. It was converted for many other purposes, such as an adult living congregate facility for several decades.
The city bought the Hacienda in 2004 for $2.5 million at the height of the Florida real estate boom. It's not worth that much now, Councilman Bill Phillips deadpanned, referring to the recession that ravaged the values of buildings and property in the city.
The Hacienda still needs an appraisal, Mario Iezzoni, the city's economic development manager, said.
Plus, the city must determine what conditions might be attached to the $1 million in state funds, Iezzoni observed.
Florida Motel owner Abraham Rosner has outlined plans to make Hacienda into a boutique hotel, Iezzoni reports. Rosner wants to put the Hacienda into operation within 18 months and make the property profitable within four years.
The firm so far has committed $2 million toward the project.
Councilman Chopper Davis said he was impressed how Rosner was ready to write a check during his appearance at a council meeting last month.
Councilman Jeff Starkey and others believe the developer will have to invest more money in order to restore the main floor to its 1920s roots with period furnishings and other items.
“Money talks,” Phillips said about the cash Florida Motel has available for the project. Legacy Lodging executives had talked about using tax credits to finance the Hacienda renovation.
Phillips believes Rosner will want to own the building after putting down such a large investment.
Mayor Rob Marlowe speculated the Hacienda might one day generate property tax revenue for the city under private ownership.
“Let's not drag our feet,” Starkey said. Hacienda restoration could be a “cornerstone” on which the city remakes its image.
“When the Hacienda Hotel is fully restored, the state funding will have been instrumental in creating both construction and operating jobs, which is critical to revitalizing the New Port Richey community,” Iezzoni wrote in a press release Monday.
New Port Richey is “sincerely thankful for the leadership and support” of Scott, state Sen.Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, in securing the state grant, Iezzoni added.