We had a work session last Thursday night to get a presentation from the Sports Facilities Advisory folks who have been looking over our Rec. Center and trying to come up with recommendations for us. Several things were identified as needing attention:
- Our membership is skewed toward retirees.
- Young families are under-represented in the membership. This may be because of our fee structure.
- We need more space for certain activities, eg. use of exercise equipment.
This stands in sharp contrast with what we’ve been seeing at Sims Park since the park reopened the end of January. The park is invariably overflowing with young families and kids running through the splash pad and playing on the new playground. I walked over Saturday afternoon and there were eight different birthday parties in progress. All four of the shelters near the playground were full, as was the large shelter down by the river. Additionally, three of the picnic tables under the trees were party sites.
Greater New Port Richey Main Street had their Seafest last weekend at Sims Park. This was the first weekend event to really take full advantage of the new park layout. The place was packed. Sunday afternoon, my wife and I took our oldest granddaughter to the park. We walked around a bit, let Jordyn play on the playground for a while, and then went over to Ottaway’s for ice cream. While there, I noted that there were cars parked IN FRONT of the old Altman Law building. That is the first time I can recall that happening.
I took a picture of what I saw, but didn’t notice the most significant part of what I was seeing until I blew up the picture later at home. What is amazing is that there are FOUR strollers in the picture! Hmmm.
New Port Richey is getting younger.
I believe that one of the keys to revitalizing our city is to make it attractive for young families to live and work here. There are a number of things we can do to make that happen.
We’ve gotten off to a good start with the new Sims Park. The splash pad and the playground are kid magnets. There are some other things in the works, such as the new video display, that will further enhance the park for things like movie nights.
We are taking a hard look at the Rec. Center. We need to look at the Rec. Center not in terms of who is using it now, but rather in terms of broadening its appeal.
Revised pricing for families is definitely something we need to talk about. SFA also suggested increasing the size of the exercise area and having some supervised space for kids to play in while parents come to use the exercise equipment. Will anyone move to New Port Richey simply because we have the best and most affordable Rec. Center in the area? Probably not, but it certainly won’t hurt us either.
Jobs are an obvious issue. New businesses in the historic district have brought jobs downtown, but that is only a start. We need more quality jobs to attract more young families to call New Port Richey home.
Morton Plant North Bay is doing its part. They have poured over $100 million dollars into their campus and they have another $25 million or so in projects in the pipeline. Imagine having a good paying job at a hospital that you can walk to each morning while living within easy walking distance of a premier park and a thriving downtown. I’m going to predict that fixing up homes between the river and North Bay is going to be a trend within the next couple of years. Many of these older homes are affordable and the perfect size for young families just starting out.
We have a number of Google developers who already live in New Port Richey and drive to Tampa to work. We need to cultivate that group and get them to call New Port Richey “home” for both living and working. Given the nature of the Internet, that isn’t all that complicated. Space to meet and collaborate and fast Internet is all that is needed.
What happens if we are successful? You need look no further than Sims Park for the answer. Families are now taking ownership of the park and the change has been quite dramatic, with the picnic tables filled to capacity on a regular basis, kids all over the playground, and people walking all around.
Imagine the older neighborhoods in the city with kids everywhere. The recent move to make it easier to build front porches on older homes fits right in with this concept. Sitting outside on the porch lets you enjoy watching the kids play outside. As a bonus, you can get to know your neighbors.
Imagine the parents with the four strollers shown above walking from the park back to their homes instead of their cars. It isn’t that hard to imagine.
I think we may be onto something.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor