Several years ago, before I ran for Mayor, I sat down for coffee with CT Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times and attempted to lay out my vision of what I believed New Port Richey should become. After I’d rattled on for quite a bit, Mr. Bowen asked me: “Do you realize how many times you have said ‘If we can’?” I sat there thinking about it. He was absolutely correct. I had ticked off quite a list of things that needed attention from the next Mayor. When I was elected as Mayor in 2014, I kept all of those “If we can’s” in mind and worked to convince my fellow members of the City Council that we needed to address each of them.
I believed then, and I believe now, that making New Port Richey into everything it can be involves multiple, interconnected steps, not some single “magical” solution .
My “if we can” list is pretty straight forward. It has changed a bit over time, but I’ll update you on some of the perennials. Some of the things we have accomplished; some are still a work in progress.
If we can get Main Street Landing finished: This was and is a big one. We celebrated a new groundbreaking on this much delayed project last Friday. There is every reason to believe that we will see it finished in the next 16-18 months. The very act of restarting construction has given a boost to everything near it.
If we can clean up Sims Park we will make it a place for families instead of drug dealers and prostitutes. This one we’ve accomplished with further enhancements, especially around Orange Lake, in the coming months. In the process, we also made it a better place for our signature events, such as the Chasco Fiesta that will be arriving in less than a month.
Do we care that there are frequently hundreds of kids and their parents enjoying the playground, the splashpad, the picnic shelters, and the rest of the park? I can tell you for a fact that Ottaway’s and SugarDarlings care. The foot traffic in front of their two stores has exploded. People don’t just stop at Ottaway’s for an ice cream cone and then head home. We’ve seen families with ice cream cones walking Grand in front of the Theatre. Do we care? The answer is a resounding “YES!!!”. We care.
If we can get the Hacienda fixed up and reopened to the public: We’ve accomplished quite a bit on this goal, especially with the removal of the non-historic additions on the north side, installing a new roof and making the building weather tight. There is still work to be done, but the city, and more importantly, our citizens, have made a commitment to bring the Hacienda back to its former glory. Be sure to drop by the Hacienda for the big event that the Friends of the Hacienda have planned for March 11th.
If we can interest someone in doing something with the old Spoonbills building: Those of us who are old timers remember when the building was a funeral home. It’s hard to enjoy a meal if you keep remembering funerals you went to there. Fortunately, we were able to find a developer who was willing to bulldoze the old building and start fresh. Beef O Brady’s opened last year in the former Spoonbills location. It appears to be busy almost every time I drive by it. What is especially nice is that it appears to be attracting a different clientele from the other restaurants downtown. Those restaurants continue to do well.
If we can fill up the empty storefronts downtown: The Historic area east of the bridge is now largely full. The storefronts west of the bridge are starting to fill up. A rough count shows 30 new businesses in the past three years that are still here.
If we can attract the right kind of businesses downtown: People Places and My Network One would be two prime examples of the “right kind” of businesses: Businesses that will attract a younger set of employees and offer the potential for better paying jobs than we’ve seen around New Port Richey in the past.
Attracting businesses and good paying jobs is critical for our city’s long term survival. I went on a service call to one of my clients in Clearwater last Wednesday. Coming back in the late afternoon was horrible. Stop and go traffic on Gulf To Bay was understandable, but Stop and go traffic on US 19 all the way to Trouble Creek Road? If we can convince more business owners to locate here, they will find a gold mine of potential employees who would LOVE to have a good paying job right here rather than having to commute to Clearwater, Tampa, etc.
If we can get additional restaurants: The Dulcet was the first upscale restaurant to open downtown. Rose’s Bistro moved from next to the empty Spoonbill’s into a prime location at the corner of Grand and Railroad Square and next door to Boulevard Beef & Ale. Rose took her menu upscale with the move. You’ll find that Boulevard Beef has also added some very nice dishes to their menu. When Mezzalunas closed, Johnny Grits was right there to grab the space in the Chasco Building. The biggest surprise success? That award has to go to the White Heron Tea Room. A tea room? In New Port Richey? Kelly Maki has made it a reality. I should also mention SIP. SIP is a new wine & cheese spot with a distinctively nice vibe. All of our great downtown restaurants make it an easy decision to head to downtown New Port Richey when you get hungry.
If we can do something with the old post office across the street from Orange Lake:
The City opened a business incubator in 2014 and things have evolved to the point where My Network One, a 21st century multimedia company, is occupying virtually the whole building.
Given that the building had been sitting empty for years made cleaning it up and getting it open and fully occupied incredibly sweet.
If we can deal with the hole left when Community Hospital moved out of the Marine District: We’ve had some successes here, such as Applicant Insight moving into a former medical office. The big goal is still ahead of us. New Port Richey is in the running as the perfect site for a new VA facility. The City is out there working hard to make this a reality.
If we can address the blight in our residential neighborhoods: We passed a driveway ordinance to get cars parked somewhere other than where grass belongs in front yards. We came up with some innovative solutions so that residents could add parking with little or no expense. Free mulch is delivered for free to any city resident that wants it. We’ve been working on other things designed to help make our residential neighborhoods more attractive to potential home buyers. Our residential grant program is one way we are doing this.
If we can do something with the old First Baptist Church property: Frank Starkey’s company, People Places, is now working hard to get plans for an upscale apartment complex ready to submit to our building department. The project is progressing, with two rezoning hearings coming up in April.
If we can get more people to become members of our Recreation and Aquatic Center: We are about to start the first major refresh of the Center since it was built 10 years ago. I am highly optimistic that this will make the center even more popular. One of the key things being changed is the location of the exercise room, allowing us to have 24 hour key-card access for members.
If we can make the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly: There is actually quite a bit going on here. We completed a multi-use trail from the corner of Grand and Mass. Avenue, up past the Recreation and Aquatic Center and wrapping up at the start of the Starkey Trail Extension at the corner of Mass. and Congress. We are putting the finishing touches on the multi-use trail along Marine Parkway. A citizen group met a couple of weeks ago to talk about our neighborhood parks and trails.
The Marine Parkway trail is particularly nice because the landscaping is going to boost the appearance and value of the houses along Marine Parkway. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the homeowners along that stretch of road are now fixing up their homes.
If we can fix up our neighborhood parks. The citizen group that I mentioned in the previous paragraph looked at each of our parks and worked out ideas to make our neighborhood parks better. Neighborhood playgrounds, additional docks along the river, and a general sprucing up of the neighborhood parks are all being discussed.
If we can fix the eyesore that is US 19: We haven’t waited for the county’s Harbor Plan. We’ve started landscaping US 19 within the city limits. What has been finished should look great once we get a little closer to summer.
If we can deal with the criminal element: Our police department has been making steady progress addressing the criminal activity within our city. We are trying to get the county’s attention and assistance in dealing with problem areas that, while near us, are within the county’s jurisdiction.
If we can fix up our streets: We’ve got over three million dollars in road work scheduled for the current fiscal year. Millions more in road work is included in our current five year capital projects plan. We have a citizen committee looking at how to organize plans for residential street maintenance over the long term.
To sum things up, I believe we have taken up the “If we can” challenge over the past three years. “If we can” has turned into “Yes, we have” in many cases and I have no doubt that the rest fall in the “Yes we will” category.
I’m looking forward to seeing how much more we can accomplish together during the next three years.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor
Since I’m running for reelection and I’m asking for your support, we’ll put a disclaimer on this NPR Note. You can visit my campaign website at http://robmarlowe2017.com.
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