There were quite a few highlights in 2022, but undoubtedly the biggest event was the reopening of the Hacienda Hotel. It took well over a decade to find the right developer and get the building back into shape, but the end result is amazing.
Gulf High celebrated its centennial in 2022. What do do with the original school building on Grand has been an open question for a number of years. While we may or may not have found THE answer, we certainly have ONE very fine answer: The Dinos and Dragons exhibit opened in December and it is absolutely worth checking out.
The Chasco Fiesta returned last spring for its 100th anniversary. After a couple of years of being cooped up indoors, I believe just about everyone was thrilled to be able to get out and enjoy the event. One big change was Ruth Eckerd Hall handling the ticketing for the larger shows and most of the park requiring tickets to enter on a daily basis. This was not without some controversy and there were some logistical issues that the Chasco folks will have to solve before this year’s event, but overall, it seemed to work.
2022 saw the start of DART shuttle service between the city parking garage and the historic downtown. These electric shuttles offer an easy way to get downtown and not have to worry about finding a parking space.
Last year also included a growing number of small scale events designed to attract more foot traffic downtown. The Halloween Trick or Treat event was a massive success. I set up a table in front of my shop and gave away well over $100 in candy. Some of the other downtown businesses gave away several times that much in candy.
We’ve got farmers’ markets, craft markets, and a new 4th Friday Art Walk. The 4th Friday Art Walk deserves special recognition as it is attempting to expand both in the historic downtown and the Palm District. I look forward to seeing these events continue to grow and expand throughout our downtown.
The road ahead is starting to come into focus:
Planning for the expansion of the James E Grey Preserve continues. There will be a new entrance at the south end of Congress. Until then, come in the main entrance on Plathe Road and enjoy. The current Story Walk has some challenges for adults.
There are plans being developed to make the Railroad Square area more pedestrian friendly and potentially a weekly site for small markets. Turning the section between Grand and Adams into a single lane for deliveries, moving the utility lines underground, setting up clam shell kiosks, and adding shade to the area are just some of the things being considered.
We continue to implement our popular pavement management plan to update streets throughout the city. One obvious possibility is to use this process to not only keep the asphalt in top condition, but to also right size a number of oversized streets and add sidewalks where there are none. Right sizing the streets will reduce the temptation to speed and full size sidewalks and multi-use paths will make it safer to walk and bike around town.
The section of River Road between Bridge Street and Veterans will be the first stretch of roadway to see this. Power poles have already been relocated as part of the work Duke Energy is doing all over town and design work is well underway to narrow the traffic lanes and replace the current sorry excuse for a sidewalk with a full width sidewalk.
Another stretch of road getting attention is Grand Blvd between the bridge and the downtown. Plans are underway to use paint to change Grand from four lanes to two lanes, plus a center turn lane. This fairly inexpensive change will prepare us for the replacement of the Grand Blvd bridge in a couple of years.
City staff continue to work on zoning changes that will make it easier for homeowners to add accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to their properties. ADUs are sometimes referred to as “granny flats” and would potentially serve as both a source of income for homeowners and inexpensive housing for those who have been priced out of the current housing market. Fixing up our alley system and naming the alleys are both steps the city is taking in advance of possible zoning changes.
The entire Marine District, the area surrounding the old Community Hospital site, is ripe for redevelopment. The city is kicking around possible land use and zoning changes that would encourage the replacement of old medical offices with a variety of uses, such as single and multi-family residential, mixed use (eg. apartments upstairs and retail or other commercial uses downstairs), and neighborhood commercial.
If the original Gulf High site is ultimately converted into some sort of cultural center or museum, it might well serve as the spark that ignites the redevelopment of the whole area, much like the city’s investment in Sims Park sparked renewed interest in our downtown and the combination of Stonehaven and Keiser University have sparked interest in the Palm District.
We continue to have a challenge with safely getting pedestrians, bicycles, and golf carts across US 19. We are going to have to get FDOT involved in improving the situation. FDOT came up with a plan to put a pedestrian crossing of US 19 at Green Key Road. It was the right idea, but the wrong location. Pedestrian crossings ought to be considered at several locations, including possibly at Sunset Road and Avery Road. Additionally, an overpass at Marine Parkway and an underpass at the US 19 bridge are absolutely worth considering.
While crossing US 19 in a golf cart is illegal, the law is honored more in the breach than the observance. The solution is not to ticket every golf cart crossing the highway, but rather to make it safe to cross 19 and get FDOT to sign off on the waiver that they are authorized to issue. If I were to pick out spots for crossing 19 on a golf cart, they would include Gulf Drive, Main Street, and Grand Blvd (in Port Richey). A crossing at Marine Parkway would also be popular, but would require more thought by FDOT on how to make it safe.
One final thought on US 19 is whether or not it makes sense for the speed limit to be 45. With the current speed limit, it is not unusual to see people going 60 or faster. I believe we need to decide whether US 19 is a highway or a local commercial road. As currently configured, it doesn’t do either job well. We can sacrifice all the local businesses along 19 by converting it into a limited access highway like it is in Clearwater or we can slow the flow of traffic like is done in St. Petersburg, where the speed limit is 35 and cars actually drive at slower speeds. Which way we decide has a large bearing on what sort of redevelopment we’ll be able to accomplish along US 19.
Most of these future directions will be finalized well after I leave council in April. I’m pleased with where we’ve come, but there are plenty of exciting opportunities for the new mayor and council to consider as everyone works together to make New Port Richey an even more amazing place to live, work and play.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor