PORT RICHEY — Nancy Britton wiped tears from her eyes Thursday as demolition crews began clearing away debris at the dilapidated Port Richey Mobile Home Park.
For years, she said, the park had drawn an unsavory mix of prostitutes and drug users. After the residents moved out earlier this year, it became an illegal dumping ground and an unsafe gathering place for homeless people.
"I am ecstatic," said Britton, 50, a former City Council member who once held anti-crime marches around the blighted park at River Gulf Road and U.S. 19.
"I know two kids who got wrapped up in drugs there," she said. "What has me so emotional is that I'll never have to see another kid affected by that trailer park again."
Britton, other neighbors and city officials shared a collective sigh of relief Thursday as bulldozers tore down the dwellings on the 1.6-acre property. Tangled piles of debris from the park's 34 structures were scooped up by a front loader and hauled away.
City officials had planned to demolish the park for months, but waited until the ownership of the property was settled during a foreclosure sale Wednesday at the West Pasco Judicial Center.
The city came prepared to bid on the property — appraised in August for $622,000 — for no more than $400,000. But the property's mortgage holder, Bayview Loan Servicing, wanted $476,000.
So Bayview kept the property and the city walked away empty-handed.
"It wasn't worth what we wanted to bid," said City Manager Richard Reade. "It was more than what we wanted."
Property records show the park was built in two phases: the first starting in 1958, the second in 1972. Few residents could recall positive memories about the park.
"It drew a lot of bad stuff to the area, like drugs and prostitutes," said James Zambrotto, 67, who owns Mica & Jim's Custom Cabinets on Grand Boulevard near the park. "That's always been a trashy place. Should have been out of here a long time ago."
Records show the park was owned by the Port Richey Mobile Home Park Inc. The officer of the company is Harry Hunt.
The company fell behind on its mortgage payments and the property fell into foreclosure. Residents of the park moved out in January, city officials said.
The city tried to purchase the property earlier this year but reached an impasse with the mortgage holder's attorney.
As time passed, the park's condition worsened. Police say two fires were started on the property in the last two months.
"More doors and windows were ripped off," said Ed Winch, city building official. "It was an open cesspool."
On April 30, Winch sent a letter to Bayview condemning the property. The letter stated the mobile homes were unfit to live in and should be demolished.
When he didn't hear anything back, Winch sent a second letter June 12 saying "it's our intent to demolish if we don't hear back from you in 30 days."
A month passed. Still no word from Bayview.
So in mid-July, the city put out bids for demolition service. They hired a company for $55,000, using Community Redevelopment Agency, or CRA, funds. The city will put a lien on the property for the demolition costs, Winch said.
The work should be completed in two weeks, he said.
It is unclear what Bayview has planned for the property. An attorney for Bayview didn't return calls for comment Thursday.
Even so, Mayor Richard Rober said he'd like to see a boat ramp or a parking structure there.
"It couldn't have happened soon enough for me," Rober said of the demolition. "Getting that done was a big step in the right direction."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.