My lovely bride took me to Rose’s Bistro for a Valentine’s Day lunch. Linen tablecloth and napkins and a very elegant four course meal for under $20 a person.
Afterwards, we walked over to Sims Park to just walk around. In addition to a lot of activity at the playground, there were families all over the place. We saw folks playing kickball with each other, people picnicing under the new shade structures, a young lady playing her guitar while sitting on the grass, a couple of folks fishing, and one fellow sitting down and swinging in his hammock. There were also some very courteous young men on skateboards, families on bicycles, folks just walking around.
The Gloria Swanson parking lot was full again, just like it had been on Saturday.
This has been a long time coming. I remember talking to Craig Carmichael back in 2011 about things we could do to attract people to the park and things that could be done to fix up the Hacienda Hotel. The idea was that fixing up the park and the Hacienda could be the spark needed to revitalized a downtown that had seen better days. He wanted us to get beyond a focus on occasional special events and concentrate on things that would attract families to the park and run off the druggies and criminals that infested the park back then.
I wish Craig were here to see how right he was. The city council resisted calls to put a small playground either where the old one was or stuff it out of the way in the northwest corner of the park. A majority of us insisted on ripping out sections of Grand Blvd and Circle Blvd and plunking a big playground smack in the middle of a newly combined Sims Park / Orange Lake Park. I’d like to think that Craig is looking down on us and smiling.
Years of working with Community Development Partners to expand the Hacienda and build a modern room wing finally fell apart in 2012. The original Sims Grant prevented building a room addition to the west or north of the original structure. The only plan that “sort of” worked was one to build the addition where the Gloria Swanson parking lot is located. CDP was depending on financing the project. Financing simply wasn’t there.
Late in 2012, two things happened: Bill Phillips and I wrangled a tour of the Hacienda so that we could take a look at exactly what we were facing if the city were to consider trying to fix the Hacienda up on our own. It also became clear that the Old Post Office building on the east side of the Gloria Swanson lot was not necessarily going to have to be demolished to make way for more parking.
I vividly remember taking that tour. Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine laws, we couldn’t compare notes until the next council meeting. It turns out that both of us were thinking the same thing: The Hacienda isn’t in that bad a shape!
We organized a pair of work days in early 2013 to fix up the Hacienda. Hundreds of volunteers flooded the site both days. It was clear that the community wanted to save the Hacienda and get it opened up.
Likewise, a couple of months later, we did a work day at the Old Post Office. Ideas started percolating as to what we could do with the building. As luck would have it, the Pasco Economic Development Council wanted to replicate their successful business incubator somewhere on the west side of the county. New Port Richey had the obvious place to put it. The incubator opened in June of 2014.
The things are coming together for New Port Richey. We hired an economic development director and then a filled the city manager position as well. Both hires have turned out to be excellent. A “can do” spirit can be seen from the city council, through the city manager and department heads, and all the way to the rank and file city employees. That spirit is contagious. Businesses have been flocking to New Port Richey. From Applicant Insight to the Dulcet, Jimmy’s Studio Theatre, Johnny Grits, and Cornerstone Pizza, we’ve seen folks start believing in New Port Richey.
Getting the incubator open was the first “win”. Getting the Hacienda cleaned up, scoring a million dollar grant to start the historic preservation, and signing up a new developer to step in and finish the Hacienda once the historic preservation work is done was a second win. Getting past the nay-sayers and getting Sims Park upgraded was yet another win.
Success breeds success and I fully expect to see our newest businesses (The White Heron, Ottaway’s, and Main & Bank Coffee) all do well. Likewise, there is more private investment coming to New Port Richey. This week’s example is the demolition of Spoonbills to make room for a new Beef O Brady’s.
As you can probably tell, I’m very upbeat. We still have our challenges, but by working together, we’re going to continue to make things better.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor