Port Richey hopes old mobile home site can become tourist destination
PORT RICHEY - In hope of luring developers to prime commercial locations, Port Richey plans to wrap up demolition soon of a former mobile home park at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard. New Port Richey officials Tuesday night began the process of clearing 52 dilapidated, abandoned mobile homes at Walden Pond, northwest of Main Street and U.S. 19. New Port Richey leaders are also hoping a developer might be interested in the site after it's cleared, although more obstacles remain. Residents still occupy 11 units at the Walden Pond site, on the southeast corner of Palmetto Road and Oelsner Street. The Port Richey demolition is supposed to conclude by Oct. 15, City Manager Tom O'Neill said this week."I've heard nothing but positive feedback from the community," O'Neill said about clearing the corner. "It was a visual nightmare in addition to being a health hazard." In 2006, the city approved a plan for a hotel and commercial center on the prime corner of U.S. 19. The recession, however, killed that concept. With the local economy slowly reviving, O'Neill believes the lot can become a "destination point" because it's so close to water. Joe Alpine, president and CEO of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, has had hopes of turning the site into another John's Pass Village, the quaint, turn-of-the-century fishing shopping and hospitality area near St. Petersburg that is the top tourist attraction in Pinellas County. The entrance to the Port Richey Waterfront Park is about a block from the demolition site. The city has scheduled a public meeting on Oct. 27 for residents to suggest ideas to upgrade Waterfront Park. In the meantime, New Port Richey City Council members discussed Tuesday night the condemnation of 52 mobile homes at Walden Pond. Walden Pond LLC, the park's owner since March 2005, is pledging to clean up the 8.43-acre area, attorney Bryan Sykes told council members. Officials agreed to let the owner tackle the project with strict deadlines before the city intervenes. City officials conferred with the managing owner, Paul Beraquit, and Sykes by conference call Sept. 28. "Proverbial heck broke loose" at the mobile home park in recent months, Sykes said. Vandalism has increased dramatically after the notice the park would shut down. In response, a security person will be hired soon, Sykes said. Although park owners can evict renters, several remaining residents own their mobile homes, Sykes explained. The legal process required to force them to move could take much longer, he said. Some two dozen people continue to occupy the 11 units. The park owners also must make provisions to inspect the abandoned units for any traces of cancer-causing asbestos, Sykes said. Expedited results could come three to five days after tests.