Redevelopment, aid for startups top city’s agenda
NEW PORT RICHEY - With newly elected councilmen on board, city council members discussed a variety of city issues this week. A Hacienda hotel survey, redevelopment of the area near the former Community Hospital and a venture to help startup companies were among the topics Tuesday night. New council members Chopper Davis and Jeff Starkey offered insights as well. Davis suggested banners promoting local firms could be placed near entry signs at the city limits. Davis had emphasized business and tourism during his campaign. The city also needs better designations along the U.S. 19 corridor, he said.A nuisance ordinance is “near and dear to my heart,” Starkey said. Hangouts for prostitutes and drug addicts could undercut the city’s redevelopment efforts, he said. In addition, council members said it is time to renew the search for a permanent city manager. Library Director Susan Dillinger has been the interim city manager since Oct. 9. John Hagen, president and CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council, touched on many topics in his quarterly report to the city council. The city hired PEDC as a redevelopment consultant. A survey on possible uses for a refurbished Hacienda hotel could wrap up within a few weeks, Hagen said. He wants to wait for more responses to a survey recently inserted into utility bills. Most people filled out the poll questions online at SurveyMonkey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/haciendahotel, which remains active. Among 200 responses so far, Hagen said, about 64 percent of respondents would like to see businesses utilize a reopened Hacienda, the landmark at Main and Bank streets. A restaurant or bed and breakfast were among top choices. About seven out of 10 respondents want the city to retain ownership of the Hacienda. The city bought the historic structure in 2004 for $2.21 million. “It’s been going slowly, to be frank,” Hagen said about an online pledge drive to help pay for major, structural repairs. As of Wednesday, the campaign had raised $3,201 from community donations toward the goal of $37,800 through the Citizinvestor crowd-funding website. The pledge drive has 47 days left before the deadline. Pledges can be made at www.citizinvestor.com/project/restore-the-historic-hacienda-hotel. Credit cards of donors are not charged unless the goal is met. Hagen said Citizinvestor organizers told him that campaigns typically quicken near the deadline. Councilman Bill Phillips suggested including properties across the street from Hacienda in redevelopment plans. The former Spoonbills restaurant has been vacant for years, he said. As for redevelopment of the Community Hospital area, Hagen said he had heard of a proposal to place a veterans’ clinic on the site on Marine Parkway near Grand Boulevard. Hagen, however, sees pitfalls with that idea. Such a clinic probably would not pay any property taxes. The city saw its tax revenue drop significantly when most of the services of Community Hospital relocated to Medical Center of Trinity. The former Community Hospital, now known as Medical Center of Trinity West Pasco Campus, primarily offers mental health services. To lure more businesses to the city, PEDC has applied for a $750,000 federal grant from the Small Business Administration for its microloan program, Hagen said. Local fundraising efforts could supply another $100,000 toward loans for startup firms. PEDC raised about $200,000 initially for its first “business incubator” in Dade City, Hagen added. PEDC recently dubbed the program SMARTstart. New Port Richey officials have expressed enthusiasm for a second PEDC business incubator here. The city plans an April 27 community cleanup day at the former post office site at 6345 Grand Blvd. Some have suggested it could serve as a site for business startups.