The Schwettman Educational Center was the original Gulf High School and opened in 1922. The empty field east of the building was St. Clair Field back when I went to high school. There were both football and baseball fields there. Schwettman has been used for a variety of things since Gulf High moved to Louisiana Avenue (now Gulf Middle School) in the early 60’s. The ball fields continued in use well into the 70’s for high school sports and various other community teams after that.
The school board declared the property surplus and New Port Richey’s Community Redevelopment Agency stepped up to purchase the property this past summer. The purchase agreement has been approved by both the city council, sitting as the board of the CRA, and the school board.
The plan is to redevelop the property as a way to kick start the redevelopment of the whole Marine District, including the former Community Hospital site a few blocks away. What will this redevelopment look like? As always, the details matter. Done right, the Schwettman property could provide the same sort of kick start that the Sims Park & Orange Lake improvements provided to the historic downtown. Done wrong and we risk losing a significant part of New Port Richey’s history.
I’ve heard lots of ideas over the years. Some of them include:
- Turning the Schwettman building into luxury condos.
- Turning the building into office space.
- Turning the building into a museum.
- Turning the building into a cultural center.
- Building townhomes on the old ball fields.
- Building a white water rafting center on the old ball fields.
- Revitalizing the old ball fields into new ball fields for community based teams.
None of these ideas are necessarily mutually exclusive. eg. You could create luxury condos upstairs and professional offices downstairs.
I’ll throw my own ideas into the mix. I’m certainly willing to consider other ideas that some of you might have as well.
I’d like to see the original building turned into a museum and cultural center. I suspect both the West Pasco Historical Society and the MAPS museum would be interested in this sort of project. In my opinion, turning it into offices or condos would be a waste of a valuable property.
Perhaps the city could lease part of the property for the construction and operation of river related businesses. These could include small watercraft rentals. The location would be ideal for this purpose. A rental company could ferry customers, canoes and kayaks to the launch area in the James E Gray Preserve and then the customers could paddle back to the docks at the Schwettman launch area. Rentals could also include small jon boats, perhaps with electric motors, for folks who would like to explore the river, but aren’t up to paddling.
One or more local restaurants on the property could complete the setting.
Would this kick start things in the area? I suspect it might. There are an enormous number of former medical offices in the area from Gulf Drive down to Marine Parkway. Many of these buildings were built in the 70’s and 80’s for doctors and are either tired or underutilized.
Give people a reason to want to live and work in the area and you might well see investors jumping in to repurpose or replace the old medical offices with multi-use buildings that would attract both neighborhood businesses and residents. This is exactly what we saw downtown after the city invested in Sims Park & Orange Lake.
Imagine living within a five or ten minute walk from a museum / cultural center and river themed recreation center. Imagine that your home was only a five minute bike or golf cart ride from our historic downtown. Imagine neighborhood stores and restaurants within walking distance from your home, so you never HAD to go out on US 19 for basic necessities. Would you want to live there? I’m willing to bet that quite a few people would say “yes” to that question.
Let us know what you think. Better yet, let the city council know what you think.