NEW PORT RICHEY — City parks could soon be bustling with ecotourism opportunities as city leaders consider dropping a ban on commercial activity.
The New Port Richey City Council on Tuesday passed a first reading of an ordinance amendment that would allow vendors to apply for permits to rent kayaks, canoes and bicycles in city parks. The amendment would also allow for the possibility of boat rides, food and drink sales and "other related articles and services," according to parks and recreation director Elaine Smith.
Each permit application would be reviewed by the city on a case-by-case basis. Applicants would have to agree that the "city shares in the revenue produced by the activity or is otherwise compensated," according to the ordinance change.
Council member Jeff Starkey said bringing in vendors will allow patrons of the park to have more access to the city's waterways, which could be a big draw.
"We have a gem in the Cotee River," he said.
Former City Council member Rob Marlowe, who owns a business downtown, urged the board to pass the amendment, saying generating business in city parks is a "great opportunity."
"It's something I have been urging staff to do for ages," Marlowe said.
While the amendment applies to all of the city's 10 parks, it was the prospect of more outdoor activities being offered at Sims Park that had excitement brewing. Allowing vendors could add to efforts by the council to revitalize downtown and, specifically, the historic Hacienda Hotel adjacent to Sims Park.
Last week, the City Council approved spending $24,000 for an architect to draw up a master plan with an eye toward restoring the hotel in conjunction with making improvements and upgrades to amenities at Sims Park, including installing a new playground and adding jogging/walking trails and possibly a nature observation platform.
Council member Chopper Davis said he thinks allowing vendors in the park will make New Port Richey an even more attractive destination.
"I think this is great," he said of the ordinance change.