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Proposals would add or overhaul parks in Pasco, cities

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Published:   |   Updated: November 15, 2013 at 09:18 AM

(Editor's note: Beacause of a production error, the final line of this article was omitted from the Welcome to the Community Fall 2013 print special section published Nov. 13 and 14. This online version has the entire text of the article.)

Award-winning parks have provided a source of pride for Pasco County and city officials, but now they hope to take facilities to the next level to lure even more tourists and residents.

By spring 2014, a proposed county park with beachfront lake could open its first phase at the former SunWest mine site in the Aripeka area, Commissioner Jack Mariano thinks. The county is seeking a contractor for the SunWest project.

The county wants to hasten the park project that was first introduced in 2007, County Administrator Michele Baker has said. A spring opening could allow a private company to begin operating its wakeboard facility at the lake. Wakeboard tournaments could boost sports tourism, a major thrust of county efforts of late.

The county has been sitting on millions of dollars from the mine operator to reclaim the site and help create the park. Originally the park was interconnected with a proposed dredging of a channel to allow gulf access for boats at the site. That idea ran afoul of federal regulators, so the county redrew the park plan so it doesn't require oversight by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. An appeal of the channel dredging decision continues.

In Trinity, the county could begin working on the early stages of a new park. For at least 10 years, ideas for a county super park in the Trinity area remained stuck in the mud of wetlands on Starkey Ranch property.

County leaders believe, however, the latest plan — a smaller district park — stands a good chance of going to the design phase later this year. The property roughly lies north of S.R. 54 between Odessa and Longleaf.

The concept would shoehorn a K-8 public school next to the park so that they could share some facilities. Plus many new homes would sprout up on the large tract over the years. The synergy between the county, Pasco school district and developers could turn the dream into a reality at last, according to Pasco Parks and Recreation Director Rick Buckman.

And if that wasn't enough, efforts continue to connect the Pinellas Trail with Pasco trails through the Trinity area and Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

In downtown New Port Richey, the historic former home of the Hacienda Hotel is generating some buzz among potential developers, business leaders. Hundreds of residents helped clean the landmark at Main and Bank streets in January and February. Complications have slowed progress of late toward reopening the hotel that first opened in 1927.

A long-term proposal could overhaul Sims Park, adjacent to the Hacienda, in phases over the next decade. The Super Playground could shift toward the back of the park away from Main Street traffic. The historic Peace Hall former church could move to a barge floating in the middle of Orange Lake as a unique draw. The park could expand by closing a short section of Grand Boulevard along the north edge of the current site and redirecting traffic.

Meanwhile, New Port Richey officials have taken several steps in recent months to discourage vagrants and other “undesirable” people from lingering around Sims Park overnight.

In Port Richey, the city last year cleared the site of a rundown former mobile home park on the southwest corner of U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard. City leaders hope to attract a developer to build in the area and tie in with nearby Waterfront Park along Old Post Road.

The coastal park could go through an extreme makeover in the years ahead. With safety concerns closing the current fishing pier, a new pier could be among top priorities in early phases, depending upon if the city finds funds.

The West Pasco community would welcome back seasonal residents each year with a celebration and use them as ambassadors to the area under a plan floated at a recent tourism summit by Pasco Economic Development Council President and CEO John Hagen.

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