NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County has won all kinds of awards for its Harbors Plan to redevelop the county’s waterfront and U.S.19 corridor. But for now, it’s just a plan.
The real challenge is putting ideas into action. That’s what Thursday’s all-day brainstorming session was about.
The county won a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to bring in two experts from Smart Growth America to help the county and cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey develop a plan for implementing the Harbors vision.
“It’s important not to be purely theoretical,” Smart Growth’s John Robert Smith said. “You have to know you can do it.”
Smith, a former pharmacist and small-town mayor, said New Port Richey has great potential for redevelopment because the city was developed in a grid pattern, which lends itself to being the type of “walkable” community that attracts baby boomers and millennials.
Millennials — people in their 20s and 30s — are buying fewer cars and waiting longer to get their driver’s licenses than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Many of them would rather use transit or a car-sharing service than deal with owning a car.
“We went to get our license as soon as we could because it was how we socialized,” Smith said. “They don’t have to do that anymore — they have (smartphones).”
City and county officials, and a few members of the public, offered dozens of suggestions for reinvigorating the downtown area. Peter Altman, New Port Richey’s finance director, wanted to focus on building a huge tourist attraction — a man-made whitewater course through downtown. “What we need is a home run — a wow project,” he said.
Others offered more modest goals, such as rewriting the city’s zoning rules to allow for more creative uses, improving parking or using water taxis to connect downtown with Millers Bayou.
Smart Growth Vice President Chris Zimmerman said he and Smith would compile all the suggestions into a final report, along with their recommendations, in a few weeks.
“We need to walk out of here with an action plan that won’t sit on a shelf,” economic development planner Melanie Kendrick said.