NEW PORT RICHEY — The city hopes to strike a deal with the renovator and operator of another historic Florida hotel to restore New Port Richey’s historic Hacienda Hotel to its former glory.
City leaders on Tuesday directed staff to enter into negotiations with the owners of Lakeside Inn, a hotel in Mount Dora that dates to 1883. The goal is to get the landmark Hacienda, built in 1927 and situated in the heart of New Port Richey’s downtown, back into service.
City Council members, acting as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, unanimously picked Lakeside as the best of three contenders to return the Hacienda to operation as a boutique hotel.
The staff will negotiate a proposal and development agreement with Lakeside owner James Gunderson, whose qualifications package said his plan is to acquire, renovate and operate the hotel.
"I was very impressed," said City Council member Chopper Davis. "I think this is the kind of project we want."
The effort comes after years of frustration over what to do with the building. New Port Richey has owned the hotel since 2004, when it purchased the Hacienda for more than $2 million during the real estate boom. The subsequent economic crash left the building sitting dormant and falling into disrepair.
In recent years, two similar agreements with developers have fallen through. Meanwhile, the city has stabilized and repaired the building, with the help of a $1 million grant from the state to replace the roof and make other improvements. Last year, the state awarded another $550,000 in grants, with the city providing $300,000, to replace the hotel’s doors and windows and restore its patio and entry areas.
Mayor Rob Marlowe and Council member Bill Phillips recalled years of disappointments over failed efforts to find the right developer and the highs of a community still enthralled with the hotel’s mystique and with a desire to see it restored.
Gunderson said he is not a developer, but a renovator. He has a "love for old hotels" and a passion for preserving history as the purveyor of Lakeside. He envisions a similar restoration for the Hacienda.
"There is no question you can see it. In the Hacienda, I can see it," he said.
City Manager Debbie Manns estimated a 60-day time line for negotiations. She plans to visit Lakeside Inn next week.