NEW PORT RICHEY
They've heard the wise cracks. All it takes is another off-beat news story and one person or another is shaking their head and making the comment, "only in Pasco."
But there's a lot of good going on. Just ask the owners of an event/promotion company Rock the Boat Productions — Lia Gallegos, 42, and identical twin sisters, Kira and Kacey Atkinson, 32.
That they love where they live is obvious as they giddily pose for pictures on the corner of Grand Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue, the facade of the Richey Suncoast Theatre serving as a back drop.
To them, New Port Richey is a gem — a sleepy, little city that's shaking off the slumber.
They're quick to point out potential — the intricacies of the historic buildings, a public river walk buttressed by the newly renovated Sims Park, new businesses opening. And they are happy to plug it all using a savvy mix of social media, Gallegos' marketing experience, the twins environmental education and their collective connections in the community.
"We know who you should meet," Gallegos said. "We bring people together for synergy."
Kira and Kacey Atkinson enjoy a back-of-the hand familiarity with their city. The River Ridge High and University of South Florida graduates have lived in the downtown area since they were 9 years-old, and are in the midst of purchasing a house one street over from where they now are renting.
Gallegos is a northwestern transplant who left the gray days of Oregon some years ago for a relationship. She soon discovered the warm weather and the quaint, small city were a better fit.
The three met while serving on the New Port Richey Cultural Affairs Committee. Their experience there helped plant the seeds for Rock the Boat.
"We developed a business plan and have been ramping it up in the last two years," Kira Atkinson said, adding that their tag line is "Making Waves."
Smaller scale and locally grown is their gist. They're not about creating monster events such as the annual Cotee River Bike Fest and Chasco Fiesta where thousands of outliers pour into town for a few days and leave.
"We want to create events for the people who live here," Gallegos said. "We want people to appreciate what we have and actively support the downtown businesses."
"We want to have a whole amenity of things going on throughout the week — not just the weekends," Kacey Atkinson said. "It adds to the quality of life."
Their signature event is the annual Pasco EcoFest, a two-day environmental festival that will be held Saturday and Sunday in Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park.
They also were behind ramping up participation in "Talk About Town," a discussion series hosted by Frank Starkey's People Places, as a means to enlighten locals and encourage dialogue on urban development in the city.
"We thought that was going to be a tough sell, but about 40 to 50 people showed up for the monthly presentations," Gallegos said.
Ann Scott, the director of the New Port Richey Library said she reached out to Rock the Boat to promote the library's new BANneD Books summer concert series, based on past successes and their like-minded approach to supporting community and culture in New Port Richey.
"They understand how to create quality experiences and are fun and easy to work with," she said, adding that they hope to keep the momentum going with a winter schedule.
Some 50 to 60 people — including Mayor Rob Marlowe — turned out on hot summer evenings to hear indie bands and talk censorship in Sims Park.
"The whole vibe is different than something like Bike Fest, where you have a band like Great White playing for thousands of people," Marlowe said. "These concerts are not designed to be big. What they have come up with is something that fills a different void."
Greg Smithwick used their services for an "environmental experience" launch party for his So Local Pasco podcast at the Energy and Marine Center in Port Richey.
"It was one of the best days of my life," said Smithwick, recalling the delight of grown-ups seining with nets on the Port Richey coast and kayaking to Durney Key.
"They are a conduit to those of us who are trying to build a viable community," Smithwick said, adding that their sensitivity to using local labels and products is a big selling point for him. "I like them for their intimacy and their dedication to keeping things local — here in town."
Rock the Boat is starting to make money. But not a lot.
Even so, the women behind it embrace the shoestring quality of the business they have started.
They recently became members of the local chamber of commerce, but there is no office to display their window decal and plaque. Their work is often done at a local Starbucks where they can use the free wi-fi. Sometimes they gather at a local business they want to succeed, such as Sip, a new wine and beer cafe that recently took the space of the former Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery on Grand Boulevard.
"This is not intended to make us rich. It's not a resume builder. It's about making the place you live better," said Gallegos, who also works as the assistant manager of Wright's Nutrients, a 22-year-old natural food and supplement store located on the outskirts of the downtown area on U.S. 19.
The twins still waitress at Leaning Tower of Pizza, a job they have had since they were teens. They also run their own house-cleaning business.
"We have our day jobs," Kira Atkinson said with a smile. "And we do our soul work on the side."
Contact Michele Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MicheleMiller52.