For years, I kept hearing the same old refrain. It went something like: “Why can’t New Port Richey be like Dade City”, “Why can’t New Port Richey be like Dunedin” or “Why can’t New Port Richey be like (pick a city).”
The idea was that if we developed a thriving collection of antique stores like Dade City or somehow copied a more successful city, all of our problems would go away. We suffered from a poor self image. This resulted in our inability to articulate exactly why someone should consider New Port Richey as a place to live and work.
The poor self image was contagious. As new developments bloomed just south of us, the developers created an alternate name, “Trinity” for the post office’s designation of the area as part of the greater New Port Richey area. A number of businesses bought into the fiction that somehow their prospects would be better by building new facilities out in the empty fields along SR 54. What they got was urban sprawl with no central business hub.
The question of “Why can’t we be like…” completely missed the point. We are not Dade City. We are not Dunedin. We are New Port Richey. We have distinct strengths that we need to emphasis. Our city has started the process of defining ourselves as something unique and worth being a part of.
Trying to recruit retail stores into the downtown failed abysmally. My own business, Gulfcoast Networking, would never have survived a dozen years downtown if we had been dependent on retail sales. There simply hasn’t been enough foot traffic and the weekend special events have been notable for their complete failure to create foot traffic for retailers. As a result, the downtown went for years with a massive vacancy rate that has only recently begun to change.
The good news is that things have been changing. We aren’t seeing a single change, but rather several trends that are reshaping New Port Richey before our eyes:
We’ve begun attracting high tech companies to New Port Richey. The business incubator opened full of tech startups. Some of those startups now have their own office space downtown. Both city and business leaders are now looking at the issue of bringing the sort of Internet bandwidth necessary to take us to the next level. I spoke this past week with a downtown business owner who has a 500 x 500 meg FIOS connection and could use more bandwidth!
We’ve started the transition from bars and all you can drink specials to a real entertainment district. We now have weekly entertainment at multiple venues, including both professional and community theaters. We have an expanding variety of restaurant choices a short walking distance from each other.
New shops are opening. Some existing businesses, like the New Port Richey Florist, are actually moving from the SR 54 / Trinity area to downtown New Port Richey.
The city has taken steps to clean up the appearance of our city. It is no longer acceptable to let rental properties fall into disrepair. It is no longer acceptable to sit in a parking lot and drink yourself into a stupor. The city will be addressing other appearance and quality of life issues in the coming weeks and months.
We are beginning the very difficult task of reshaping our neighborhoods. The city has been tearing down blighted properties. Citizens have been taking things into their own hands, like building the new community garden on Grand, just south of the downtown. Neighbors are getting together for block parties. What we are seeing is grass roots community building in progress.
New Port Richey’s faith community has stepped forward to address the needs of the hungry, the homeless, and the victims of this past summer’s flooding.
The first “Walk in the Park with the City Council” event drew a large crowd to the Grey Preserve. Many of the folks who attended had never been to the park. We just finished paving Plathe Road so that you can now visit the park without needing a four wheel drive vehicle.
This past weekend’s “Walk Through History” tour downtown attracted an even larger group. You could almost see the mental gears turning as people looked around and imagined what things will look like in a month or a year from now.
There has been push back from some quarters that are uncomfortable with change.
In the vast majority of cases, we’ve been able to successfully share our vision of where the city is heading. I took a construction tour of Sims Park a couple of weeks ago with representatives of the Chasco Fiesta committee. The group imagined what sort of opportunities the new park will offer when the Fiesta returns next spring. I believe it is safe to say that they are excited about how much better the park will be as a concert / event venue when it reopens.
More changes and improvements are coming: The council will sit as the Community Redevelopment Agency at 6pm this Tuesday (tonight) to discuss a development agreement that promises to ensure the completion of the long stalled Main Street Landings project. We are taking the initial steps forward on Orange Lake improvements that will include walkways out over the lake. We’ve been working through plans for improvements needed at the Recreation and Aquatic Center, including how to better market memberships.
The excitement in New Port Richey is palpable. Hardly a day goes by without somebody telling me how happy they are to see the changes in progress in our city. The negative people are becoming fewer and fewer.
The icing on the cake was when my wife came home two weekends ago and told me of a conversation she had walked in on where someone asked: “Why can’t Palm Harbor be like New Port Richey.”
It would appear that we are well on our way to making New Port Richey into the sort of city that others can now aspire to become. I hope you are as excited as I am about where New Port Richey is headed.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor
P.S. We’ve got lots of stuff on the calendar this month:
The Coteeman Triathlon returns this Saturday. You can get more information at coteeman.com.
There will be a free benefit concert for Tatiana Brizhaneva at 3pm on Sunday afternoon at the First United Methodist Church on the corner of Jefferson and Indiana. You won’t want to miss this amazing pianist.
November 21st is another city cleanup day where you can drop off household junk a the Frances Avenue Park or at the city’s property (Old Christian Scientist Church) on South River Road.