NEW PORT RICHEY
Beth Fregger's first few months were a trial by fire.
She took the reins of Greater New Port Richey Main Street in January, only to discover little planning had been done for the popular Cotee River Seafood & Blues Festival.
Fregger said she logged about 70-hour work weeks up until the April event trying to generate sponsors and build advertising momentum. The event went off without a hitch, with several City Council members publicly praising its success. The festival generated the most profits from a special event — around $30,000 — in Main Street's history.
"I wasn't going to let my first appearance to be a failure," she said.
Now Fregger, 55, is turning her focus toward expanding Main Street's reach, with an eye toward boosting economic development and launching beautification efforts in the city's core.
For years the nonprofit organization, which relies on city funding, has primarily focused on downtown events. City Manager John Schneiger said Main Street's other missions, namely spurring downtown economic development, have largely been ignored.
"Main Street has been a very controversial organization in the past," he said, alluding to debates in previous years over whether to continue city funding for the group. "I would certainly like to see more focus on addressing economic development."
Fregger wholeheartedly agrees: "The special events we put on should not be abandoned, but clearly Main Street has other responsibilities," she said.
For starters, she wants to work with landlords to begin conducting facade improvements and signage upgrades.
Fregger also hopes to begin filling empty storefronts by helping businesses secure small grants, offering help writing and implementing business plans for prospective small-business owners, and providing support to developers such as Community Development Partners, the proposed developer of the Hacienda Hotel.
She also plans to launch an effort to beautify benches on the Main Street Bridge by holding an art contest to paint murals on the concrete slabs, which now sit with peeling, fading paint at the city's entrance.
Fregger envisions enlisting local schools' art programs and artists for a community effort to paint the benches with the motif of Nature Coast flora and fauna, or historic events, and include contests for Best Student, Best Adult, and People's Choice.
Fregger comes to Main Street with an extensive background in marketing and public relations. Moreover, she said she has a vested interest in downtown's success as the owner of the old Chasco Inn on Main Street.
She has been a small-business owner in the area since 1989, after she lost her job at a marketing firm when it lost a major account.
"From that point on I knew I wanted to have my future in my hands," she said.
Since then Fregger has operated her own firm with clients including Waffle House, the Florida Aquarium and WestShore Plaza. In 2004, she and her husband purchased the Chasco Inn, where she operates her business.
But her main focus is now the uphill battle of turning around Main Street, which has been lacking day-to-day leadership since the resignation of her predecessor. City Council member Judy DeBella Thomas resigned in October 2010 as Main Street executive director so she could cast the deciding vote to save Main Street's funding.
The organization could face another battle over its funding this year. Schneiger has called on all his department heads to slash their budgets — which are already down to the bone — by 10 percent.
It remains to be seen if Main Street's $25,000 grant will be on the chopping block.
Fregger is working to boost the group's membership: With no real drive in years, she said, memberships have fallen to around 120 from more than 200.
Rebuilding community support will be crucial to Main Street's efforts, she said.
"We need all the help we can get. I always tell people if you call me to help out, get ready because I have work for you," Fregger said. "I'm asking people to open your minds, open your pocketbook and help us out."