This may be the most complicated NPR Note I’ve ever written, so please bear with me. There are a LOT of moving parts and I’ve had to refrain from talking about all of this until staff could put things together for the CRA and City Council to review and discuss this past Tuesday night.
While the historic downtown has been undergoing a renaissance during the past few years, the Palm District, known for the Washingtonian Palms lining Main Street, hasn’t fared so well. Bounded by US 19 on the west and the Main Street bridge on the east, there simply hasn’t been much reason for folks to spend time there. That is beginning to change.
Started in 2004 and left as a bare one story concrete block shell from 2006 until 2017, when the project was restarted, Main Street Landing has been a long time coming. The apartments are complete and a number of businesses are doing build-outs in the first floor of the building closest to Main Street. This amazing project serves as the anchor at the eastern end of the Palm District.
A couple of months ago, the city entered into a purchase agreement to buy the old Walgreens building at the corner of Main and 19. Some folks were rightly concerned that the city was getting back into the land speculation business. That wasn’t the case. There had been several attempts to put together projects for the Walgreens property and each one fell apart. What was needed was a bigger vision and someone to coordinate all the moving parts to allow something great to happen there.
City staff negotiated for the purchase of the Walgreens property. Staff also negotiated for the purchase of the old Tampa Tribune and Miami Subs properties. At the same time, staff worked with Keiser University and their developers and got an agreement from them to purchase all three properties from the city at the same price that the city is paying for them.
The city has an option on not quite an acre and a half of land on the east side of the project. The developer would donate that land to the city in exchange for some spaces in a city built and owned parking garage. Construction of the garage would allow for the construction of a hotel between Keiser University and the Suntrust property.
So what is the net effect of this?
The Keiser University project is about $12 million. The hotel would be another $5 million. To convert three blighted properties just south of US 19 and Main into modern facilities worth somewhere between $12 and $17 million dollars is a huge win for the city.
As an added bonus, the city will retain not quite an acre at Main and US 19 for an entryway feature to let folks on US 19 know that they need to turn east to get to downtown New Port Richey.
When Keiser University is completed in early 2021, the Palm District will have modern bookends and the thousand students at Keiser University will give the property owners in between all the incentive in the world to think about fixing up their properties to attract business from those students as well as faculty and staff plus the residents of Main Street Landing.
The city is looking at taking things to the next step: At Tuesday night’s meeting, I asked staff to dust off the proposals for improving the section of Main Street between US 19 and River Road. The proposals were specifically designed to make this section of Main Street to be more inviting for pedestrians. Students, faculty, and Main Street Landing residents could all easily walk to new restaurants and businesses along this stretch of Main Street. Imagine replacing the obsolete strip mall on the north side of Main with a new building built right out by the sidewalk with parking in the rear. Imagine the same sort of thing on the south side of Main Street, with new businesses taking advantage of a parking garage practically outside their back doors.
In case you are wondering, I suggested that we look at building parking structures both behind Keiser University and on the south side of Railroad Square, west of Grand.
The grand vision is for us to have an inviting and walkable downtown that stretches from US 19 all the way to Madison Avenue. Will this take a lot of hard work? You bet it will, but it is possible. We ignored the naysayer who went around town six years ago telling everyone that the historic New Port Richey downtown was dying and they should move out. I challenged my colleagues during my first council meeting as Mayor to join me in making New Port Richey a better place. We started with Sims Park and the downtown. The results speak for themselves. We’ve expanded our focus to include upgrading the Recreation and Aquatic Center and designing a comprehensive plan to fix all of the streets in the city and keep them in good condition. We can do the same thing in the Palm District if we are willing to dream big enough and not accept the status quo.
The city is currently working on a number of projects designed to improve our level of service and make New Port Richey an even more inviting place to live, work, and play: Plans to replace Fire Station 2 with a larger station that will have faster access to US 19 and the southern part of the city are well underway. Plans are being developed to connect the multi-use path on Marine Parkway with the multi-use path on Madison. We are continuing to work with both Pasco County and Port Richey to connect our downtown with the Port Richey waterfront. We are continuing to follow our street improvement plan. We are offering inexpensive family entertainment options, like our movies in the park series and our concert series. The concert this past weekend was estimated to have drawn over 5000 people downtown. By all accounts, this was the largest attendance at any concert in the park ever! The downtown restaurants report that the folks coming to the concert came hungry. We are continuing to address slum and blight conditions in town. Cleaning up US 19 is a top priority.
In short, there continues to be a lot of moving parts and I am confident that our city staff, under the leadership of our city council, is up to the task of taking our city to the next level. These are exciting times and I hope you share my enthusiasm for making New Port Richey as great as we all know it can be.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor