Organizations tend toward inertia. Suggestions for change are met with the refrain: “But we’ve always done it this way.”
This inertia is widespread and nothing new. At Methodist Youth Camp in Leesburg, I learned a new song decades ago. Sung to the tune of “Onward Christian Soldiers, it started out like this: “Like a herd of turtles, moves the church of God. Brothers, we are treading where we’ve always trod.”
During the height of the Great Recession, our then city manager became convinced that only a miracle would save our city. It was depressing to hear him recite all the woes facing us. Everyone, from the Chamber of Commerce on down, seemed to accept that New Port Richey’s best days were behind us and we were doomed. The problem was that we had spent far too long accepting the status quo. We made some tough decisions to keep the city alive, but it wasn’t pretty and it definitely wasn’t fun.
My conviction that we should aspire to be better and be willing to try different things was my primary reason for running for Mayor back in 2014. I was blessed with a set of city council members who agreed that we needed to shake things up and try something different. With that basic agreement, we started moving forward.
The renovation of Sims Park and starting work on rehabilitating the Hacienda were right up at the top of our priority list. Economic development became a major focus. Business owners saw the changes in New Port Richey and started putting their own money into the city.
Today is far different from those dark days. People are taking pride in their city again. Someone recently posted on facebook that they were moving to New Port Richey. Instead of people focusing on the bad, the newcomers were met with dozens of comments welcoming them to New Port Richey and telling them about all the great things happening here.
We still have some challenges. Some of the solutions would seem counter-intuitive. For instance, with a lack of convenient parking, one local business has installed a temporary “parklet” in front of their business, taking up part of the on street parking.
The parklet spans several parking spaces. They left a small area on the south end for bicycle parking and on the north end for a pair of golf cart parking spaces. Both were in use last night, with bikes filling up the bike parking and Bob Langford’s golf cart on the other end.
If the net result of allowing parklets to be installed is that we have more folks walking downtown in the evenings, then they may have some value.
I’m sure that the city is going to need to define some parameters before these parklets start proliferating and become permanent fixtures. Things like the setback from traffic lanes, how power is supplied for lights, what approvals need to be received before construction of a parklet, and how parklets mesh with a business’ alcoholic beverage license are all issues that need to be sorted out. I anticipate that we will have a workshop to discuss these and other issues with any downtown businesses that might have some interest in them.
Still, who would have thought that a little bit of lumber could transform a city street? This idea came out of one of People Places’ “Talk About Town” series. These gatherings run from 5:30pm to about 7pm on a Monday evening. There are different topics every time and they generally happen once or twice a month. I highly recommend them.
Under Bob Smallwood’s leadership the New Port Richey Main Street Board has also been thinking outside the box and the results are now obvious to anyone who walks into Sims Park from the Gloria Swanson parking lot.
Bob discovered a long forgotten public art fund and convinced the city’s Cultural Affairs Committee and the City Council to fund the painting of the crosswalk at Bank and Grand. The word went out and close to 200 people showed up to help paint it. This is community buy-in on steroids.
The city has installed its second EV charging station, this one in Sims Park. The charging station has just gone live. I’m pretty sure that none of the members of the Chasco Steering Committee realized that their presenting sponsor drives a Tesla. They may want to make sure that the charging station is accessible during this year’s Chasco Fiesta.
Parklets, public art, EV charging stations, and all the other things that are happening in New Port Richey are not, by themselves, the answer to making New Port Richey a great place to live, work, and play. They are all parts of the dynamic change we are seeing as New Port Richey positions itself as a special place.
We are gaining traction.
The biggest remaining step we need to take is to get the word out about what a great place New Port Richey is becoming. The city needs to step up its social media presence and update its website. We also need to enlist the help of New Port Richey Main Street, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, and all the other stakeholders in New Port Richey to get the word out.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor