NEW PORT RICHEY — City Council members are poised to decide the fate of a popular playground in Sims Park, as they soon could have a resolution in front of them that would pave the way for a westward expansion of the Hacienda Hotel.
The historic hotel has been the source of city leaders' frustration for years. A down economy has stalled the project, but hopes are high again as the city and the developer of the project, Jacksonville's Community Development Partners, are again ramping up efforts to strike a deal to get construction going, possibly by 2014.
But that could spell the end for the 12,000-square-foot wooden playground west of the city-owned Hacienda, as developers want to expand the current landmark's 53 rooms into a 93-room upscale hotel, spa and meeting space.
Several board members also said at a meeting Tuesday that the playground is falling apart and has been deemed a health risk.
"Its days are numbered," council member Ginny Miller said of the playground.
But there is a future for family fun in Sims Park, as the city is seeking grants for a master plan that would include a new playground and adjacent bathrooms elsewhere, City Manager John Schneiger told the council.
Details on the Hacienda's future have yet to be mapped out as well, but the council has scheduled a work session Tuesday to discuss plans for it further, followed by a vote on a resolution in March that could give the green light to westward expansion.
For the first time in years, the city and Community Development Partners have started to communicate about a possible time line for construction to begin.
The two sides have agreed upon a nonbinding term sheet for a public/private partnership to develop the Hacienda, which includes time lines for getting the project moving. However, a Community Development Partners official did point out to the council that until a specific development agreement is achieved, the term sheet is not a contract.
The term sheet outlines progress for design and a development agreement in the coming months, the securing of financing by Community Development Partners by July 2013 and for construction to begin in January 2014.
"We're still here; we've regrouped," Andrew Ham, Community Development Partners' vice president of development, told the council.
But the first step for the developer will be a commitment from the council to a westward expansion of the project.
Currently, the city is conducting a legal review of the property the playground sits on to look for possible easements or title problems. There appears to be nothing that would prevent such an expansion, but the city is doing its due diligence, according to Schneiger.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe thinks the thorough check is a good move.
"It's really critical before we get too far down the road," he said.