PORT RICHEY — Sharon Yates lit up when she learned crews were preparing to raze the dilapidated mobile home park that has long cast a shadow on her neighborhood.
Prep work began Wednesday for the demolition of Port Richey Mobile Home Park at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard, where dozens of collapsed and gutted mobile homes look like they've been hit by a tornado.
As workers began clearing garbage, trashed furniture and all sorts of debris littering the nearly 5-acre park, Yates worked on her perfectly landscaped yard on Old Post Road, a few hundred feet north of the condemned site. She looked across her street at the city's Waterfront Park overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and around at her neighbors' well-kept homes.
"This is a nice neighborhood, so I'm glad to see (the mobile home park) coming down. It's decrepit," she said.
The demolition effort has been months in the making. Port Richey officials deemed the site a health hazard in May. After finding residents living in crumbling mobile homes, raw sewage, and exposed electrical wiring all over the park, the city sought to use its new demolition ordinance to take it down.
City Manager Tom O'Neill stood outside the park Wednesday and said the city's efforts represent a "milestone" for the area.
"When this is done, it's going to be a beautiful piece of property right in the heart of the city's waterfront," O'Neill said. "I really believe in the area and I am excited to be a part of something that will not only be great for the city, but for the area."
Like Yates, he also pointed to nearby Waterfront Park. In the coming months, the city plans to spend a good chunk of money to create a master plan and upgrade the entire park.
"Look at this area, right on the Gulf of Mexico. Could there be anything more beautiful and more attractive to bring people into the city? But how are you going to upgrade your park with this next door?" he said, looking at the trashed mobile homes. "You just can't do it."
O'Neill said for weeks prior to the demolition order he tried to contact the park's owner, Ron Asmar, of Treasure Coast Properties LLC., to clean up the park, to no avail. Asmar later appealed the city's demolition order to the City Council, accusing Port Richey of failing to properly notify him of the demolition.
Then the city got a lucky break, O'Neill said. The property changed hands through foreclosure to Fifth Third Bank, which immediately signed a $55,000 contract with SC Signature Construction to clear the site.
The company will be working for about a month to clean up the property, but with the shape the park is in it will not be easy, according to SC Signature owner Joseph Matissek. The company had planned to start taking down mobile homes with a backhoe Wednesday, but the amount of debris and high grass caused them to spend all day on prep work. Demolition is slated to begin today.
The company had to go to each mobile home and order out about a dozen people found in the park illegally. Jonathan Demar, 36, rode his bicycle into the park Wednesday morning after seeing demolition equipment near the park's entrance.
Demar, who is homeless, came to rescue his 1966 Catholic Bible he stashed in a nook in an empty maintenance building in the heart of the park. He stored his Bible there to keep it out of the rain. He shuffled through the room of abandoned maintenance materials, a pair of toilets and a mattress to retrieve his Bible. Then he pedaled away.
For weeks, the site has been ripe for looting and trespassers, but with no interest from Asmar, police had no victim on which to base arrests, according to O'Neill. Now the site is cordoned off with yellow caution tape and has been designated as a construction site.
"From what I understand, it's a felony to trespass on a construction site, so our police officers will be watching it closely," O'Neill said.
Times photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report.