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Tax credits, private capital for Hacienda makeover debated

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Published:   |   Updated: January 24, 2014 at 12:37 PM

NEW PORT RICHEY — Contrasting visions for redevelopment of historic Hacienda hotel intrigued New Port Richey City Council members this week.

So elected leaders decided to ask two firms to submit preliminary proposals, Legacy Lodging LLC and Florida Motel Inc.

They also passed an emergency item Tuesday night to expedite spending up to $35,000 on a structural analysis of the 1927 building that both firms would need to develop plans. An online pledge drive last year did not raise enough money for the analysis.

Executives of Legacy Lodging, based in Birmingham, Ala., have said they would seek new market and historical tax credits to get the project off the ground, according to a memo from Mario Iezzoni, the city’s economic development manager.

Legacy also could leverage its connections with a highly successful hotel management firm that already directs many other niche, boutique hotels.

While city officials did not require companies to send representatives to speak this week, Florida Motel owner Abraham Rosner traveled more than three hours to pitch his preliminary ideas for the Hacienda.

Several council members praised Rosner’s “passion.”

Rosner said he would forgo tax credits and raise private capital to get the Hacienda project off to a much faster start. He would leverage his hands-on methods used for a hotel project in Yulee, a community north of Jacksonville, where he has been living during construction.

Rosner said he would live here as well if his firm gets the Hacienda project. He pledged to use local contractors as much as possible.

Rosner “definitely” envisions Hacienda as an upscale, niche hotel.

“I’m ready to start tomorrow,” Rosner said. Tax credits could take as long as three years to secure, he thinks.

“It’s a living, breathing organism,” Rosner commented about the historic Hacienda. He recently toured every room of the building for hours on end to get a better idea of the scope of the project.

Rosner gave a very rough estimate, up to $1.5 million, on how much it could take to fix the Hacienda. He noted he wound up spending three times more than he had expected for his Yulee property.

He said he keeps utility costs and other expenses as low as possible in order to keep room rates down. He thought the $160 room rate in a previous study several years ago was very high.

Councilman Jeff Starkey said long-term “sustainability” of a reopened Hacienda concerns him. Starkey said he had toured the Mediterranean-style building with Legacy executives. Council members agreed they would hate to see the Hacienda reopen as a hotel, only to close a year or two later.

On the other hand, Starkey commented, “these new market tax credits are not easy to get.” Legacy also has another project just starting, while Florida Motel is wrapping up its Yulee project.

Legacy has no firm commitment yet for a hotel management firm to guide the Hacienda after construction, Councilman Bill Phillips noted.

Council members decided to hold off ranking the four firms that had expressed an interest in the Hacienda project during the city’s request for qualifications.

City staff recommended ranking Legacy Lodging as the top choice and to begin negotiations with the firm.

Instead, council members decided to ask for preliminary proposals from Legacy Lodging and Florida Motel before settling on a final choice.

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