Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
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Pace of redevelopment bothers NPR leaders

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NEW PORT RICHEY — While business leaders say the historic Hacienda Hotel is generating a bit of a “buzz,” some New Port Richey City Council members are growing impatient over the pace of several redevelopment projects.

Many trends remain behind the scenes at the moment, Pasco Economic Development Council President and CEO John Hagen observed. Predictions are quite difficult to know when a major project might come together.

Hagen agreed that the staff of the PEDC, which is aiding the city’s redevelopment efforts under a contract signed in 2012, would try to obtain three requests for qualifications from companies interested in Hacienda work. The city and PEDC will dedicate a workshop in the near future about city-owned properties.

“To generate enthusiasm, residents have to see something happening,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said. Progress has stalled on the landmark Hacienda at the corner of Main and Bank streets, he said.

Residents are frustrated after hundreds of volunteers showed up for community cleanup days in January and February to help spruce up the Hacienda, Starkey said. The city must still perform a structural analysis on the building that opened in 1927.

“I’m disappointed more has not happened,” Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas said.

“There’s two sides to every story,” Councilman Bill Phillips countered. “Everything is a moving target” when it comes to redevelopment goals. Some city-owned properties might come with restrictions by regulators, for instance, he said.

Overall, Phillips is pleased with the progress under the PEDC contract. A year ago, the city had not even collected enough information to form a plan, he said.

Phillips also wants to restructure the city’s debt-laden Community Redevelopment Agency.

“Government never moves fast enough” to suit some people, Phillips said.

PEDC has provided much of the framework of a plan to move forward toward goals, Phillips said. “You accelerated the conversation,” he told Hagen.

“Some of these projects are going to take time,” Hagen said.

Many factors can come into play, Hagen said. For instance, the city might want to bundle together several projects to lure more interest among developers. In addition, the city may want to coordinate the Hacienda redevelopment with the proposed overhaul of Sims Park.

Elsewhere, the city could explore a short-term lease deal under which the Richey Suncoast Theatre would use the former church property on South River Road the city owns and is part of the CRA debt problem. A private academy has expressed interest in the site as well.

In 2006, the city paid $1.05 million for the former First Church of Christ, Scientist, among a string of purchases at the height of the real estate boom, before property values crashed during the post-2007 recession.

At the former Community Hospital campus, complications have arisen on adapting the mostly vacant buildings for other uses, Hagen said. Medical Center of Trinity maintains a satellite behavioral health unit there.

Some people feared that a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic at the site would exempt much of the hospital campus from city property taxes. However, Hagen said, V.A. officials likely would hire a private company to operate any clinic there. So the buildings could remain on property tax rolls.

PEDC would like to set up a second business incubator here after launching the first program in Dade City. Entrepreneurs could get help to grow their businesses. Hagen said this goal could come together by early 2014.

The former post office at 6345 Grand Blvd. has been mentioned as the base for the incubator program. The city dedicated a community cleanup day at the site in April.

Hagen also recommended more collaboration among city agencies and community groups.

“I think people are going down parallel paths,” Hagen said about coordination for projects and events. Hagen worries about the “dependence on very few people” from the city, Greater New Port Richey Main Street, West Pasco Chamber and other groups.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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