NEW PORT RICHEY — With Peace Hall relocated to a platform in the middle of Orange Lake, architects conceded their vision includes some lofty goals to overhaul Sims Park into more of a tourist destination.
Now comes the tough part, as consultants to the city of New Port Richey will try to put price tags on those dreams.
Plus, residents raised objections to rerouting Grand Boulevard; converting Circle Boulevard to two-way traffic; moving the historic Peace Hall, once the sanctuary of West Pasco’s first Roman Catholic parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, yet again; and other suggestions.
The conceptual plan by no means is the final plan, Tony Huggins, senior partner and CEO of Tampa-based JAH Architects LLC, emphasized at a special city council meeting last week. Done in phases, the project could take decades to finish if the city decided to build all the new features.
Among highlights of the concept, Huggins would relocate the playground away from heavy traffic along Main Street to the northern side of the park along the back edge. A splash pad could be added.
To make room for the new playground, Huggins envisions closing the section of Grand Boulevard that now passes by Sims Park, Peace Hall and the West Pasco Historical Society’s Rao Musunuru Museum and Library.
Instead, Huggins would divert drivers from Grand Boulevard onto a widened Sims Lane, which runs along the north edge of the museum property. Sims Lane then intersects with Circle Boulevard, which would forfeit its restriction to one-way traffic. No traffic impact studies have been done yet, the architect said.
As a centerpiece, Peace Hall would shift onto a barge anchored in the middle of Orange Lake, as Huggins envisions it. A suspension bridge would provide access. A chime tower could be added.
Huggins envisions the floating Peace Hall becoming popular for bookings such as family reunions or wedding parties.
The changes could help propel the park into a regional destination for national talent, Huggins believes. More activities could give people a reason to stay at the historic Hacienda Hotel, if it is reopened at some point.
The Hacienda, the city-owned former hotel, could gain greater visibility and blend in with the park more by adding a courtyard on one side facing the park, Huggins advised. In fact, the architect said all new park structures would borrow the architectural style of the Spanish-themed hotel building.
A three-story parking garage would become integrated into the park by raising the ground level to conceal much of the structure under a gentle slope. The top of the garage could be planted in grass. This would be the most expensive element of the plan, Huggins noted.
Tunnel access along Bank Street would mean visitors parking at the garage would never have to cross any street to get to Sims Park.
Huggins advocates moving the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce from its current site across the Pithlachascotee River from Sims Park, to Bank Street.
Along the riverfront, the concept would triple the number of docking spaces, Huggins said. The bandshell in Sims Park would shift to a new spot.
Several shade structures would help cool park visitors. The seawall would be redesigned so it doesn’t block the view of spectators looking at the river.
The overlook building adjacent to the Main Streeet bridge would gain a skylight roof to help make it more functional. Several spots would become available for vendors or concessionaires.
Some residents wonder if Peace Hall, built in 1919, would endure being transplanted again. The building was moved in 2001 to make way for construction of the New Port Richey Police Department headquarters.
One person suggested rental paddle boats as an alternative for Orange Lake.
The new traffic pattern would encourage speeding drivers to go even faster, one man thought. He suggested speed bumps on Circle Boulevard. Huggins, however, said drivers would have to navigate around several scenic “roundabout” loops that would slow traffic.
“Give me value for my dollar” and he would be willing to pay higher taxes to support the park overhaul concept, resident Craig Campbell said.
Carmichael also emphasized safety in the park area. He said his wife doesn’t feel safe now walking through the park. The area has been “ceded to vagrants,” Carmichael complained.