In our own way, we are celebrating the rebirth of our community today after the brutal COVID-19 shutdown. The current restrictions don’t ease up until Monday, but it is definitely close enough for folks to start planning. The key for our businesses will be to reopen while maintaining proper social distancing and observing appropriate safety precautions. This is not the time to throw caution to the wind and just go back to business as usual.
There are some changes that I believe we will be dealing with for months to come. Reduced occupancy levels for restaurants are one example. There are ways to work around this and get the restaurants in a position to open up at full capacity. At least some of our restaurants will be able to use their private parking lots to expand outdoors. It’s not perfect, but it is a start. There was a great article in Slate regarding exactly this sort of solution. We’ll have to get a bit more creative to help our restaurants without their own dedicated parking lots.
Because they are still all but closed by the governor, places like Ordinance One, Pete’s, and Cotee River Brewing still have challenging times ahead. I’m confident that we can come up with ways to help these businesses get back to some semblance of normal once the governor announces Phase 2 of his plan.
Although keeping everyone safe during the pandemic has been the top priority for the city, staff has been busy on a number of other fronts as well.
The most obvious change has been the repaving and restriping of Main Street. There are now parallel parking spaces on Main Street between River Road and US 19. I never understood why we needed four lanes there when two lanes work fine everywhere else on Main.
A CRA meeting has been scheduled for May 12th to discuss a proposed parking garage on the back side of the property that used to house the Tampa Tribune. The on street parking, along with the parking garage, will offer plenty of parking for nearby businesses and may encourage them to come up with better uses for the space currently dedicated to on-site parking.
This is by no means the only thing that the city is looking at to make sure we have adequate parking once our downtown comes back to life.
Last Friday, the city manager shared a conceptual drawing of an entryway feature for Main and US 19. I like it. The conceptual is very preliminary and it will undoubtedly go through a number of revisions before it is finalized. Still, something along these lines would go a long way toward letting folks driving down US 19 know that West Pasco’s only downtown starts right here.
The summer should be a busy time. Our volunteer committees are starting to meet again. They will be meeting online, but at least they will be meeting. I expect that the city council will be dealing with a number of proposals coming forward from the various committees.
The biggest open question in my mind is when will we be able to gather in large groups again. Special events have been an integral part of life in New Port Richey. Main Street Blast, the Cotee River Bike Fest, the Christmas Parade, Chasco, and our popular movies and concerts in the park are all on indefinite hold until someone comes up with a vaccine or other way to make sure that people can gather together safely. If we are lucky, we might see something as early as September, but the odds are that getting a vaccine tested and widely distributed may well take twelve to eighteen months.
This whole COVID-19 shutdown has taken a personal and emotional toll on my wife and I. Our parents are in adult living facilities and we’ve been unable to visit with them for six weeks.
Still, I believe we will remember Beltane 2020 as the time when we could see a glimmer of hope for the future and the start of a rebirth for our lives here in New Port Richey.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor