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Hacienda Hotel expansion could threaten Sims Park playground

NEW PORT RICHEY — Efforts to revive the historic Hacienda Hotel are once again on a collision course with the popular playground at Sims Park.

Attorneys have found an ordinance that would prevent developers from expanding the Hacienda to the north or the east, as those city-owned properties are specifically limited to public purposes, City Manager John Schneiger told City Council members earlier this week.

That leaves the only room for expansion to the west — into the path of the 12,000-square-foot wooden playground. The playground also sits on city-owned land, but that portion of Sims Park was acquired later, without the specific restrictions requiring public use.

Council members recalled the previous public opposition to the possibility of losing the playground. But they gave Schneiger the green light to negotiate with the developer.

Any plan would have to come back to the council at a later date for approval.

Community Development Partners has been talking with city officials for years about a plan to restore and expand the 1927 landmark into an upscale hotel and spa with a restaurant and meeting space. Because the Hacienda's 55 rooms are so small, the developer has said the hotel must be expanded to make it a viable venture.

Schneiger said Community Development Partners expressed excitement over the attorneys' findings that the project could not go north or east. A westward expansion has always been the developer's first choice.

Mayor Bob Consalvo said efforts would need to be made to find another place for a playground in the area. Other council members noted the playground, which was built two decades ago by thousands of volunteers, has fallen into disrepair and needs work anyway.

"So it may be dovetailing at the right time," council member Judy DeBella Thomas said.

Aside from the playground controversy, funding woes also plague the Hacienda project. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency is drowning in debt and its entire budget next year is already pledged to paying it down.

So coming up with a plan to get the developer started is going to take negotiations and "thinking outside the box," Schneiger said.

"It's going to be very difficult," Schneiger said. "It might come down to deeding the property to the developer."

Movement on Main Street Landing

Council members also gave their blessing Tuesday evening to efforts to negotiate incentives for another stalled downtown project: Main Street Landing.

Schneiger suggested a concept to reimburse developer Ken McGurn with some of the extra tax revenue the project would bring in once it's complete.

"This is really all we have to offer," Schneiger said.

The council was supportive of the concept, so Schneiger will meet with McGurn to hammer out some specifics, including how much money would be reimbursed and for how long.

Schneiger said McGurn may not see any of that money until 2020, though.

That may not be enough of an offer to keep construction going on the multi-use residential and retail development. McGurn said he will have roofs installed on his concrete shells in around two months, but after that he may have to stop building.

"At least their trying to be positive," McGurn said of Schneiger's offer. "They made this proposal in good faith, but if the city offers me nothing I have to stop."

Hacienda Hotel expansion could threaten Sims Park playground 08/19/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 8:53pm]
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