NEW PORT RICHEY — The city's efforts to sell the historic Hacienda Hotel — a downtown landmark that remains a blank slate for redevelopment efforts — haven't gone anywhere, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said.
So he argued for a new course of action:
"Let's keep control of the place," Marlowe said.
Several residents offered their ideas for the 1920s hotel at the City Council workshop Tuesday evening. People spoke of a restaurant opening there. Some thought of the Hacienda as great place for weddings, business conferences, or with its proximity to the city waterfront, a hub for eco-tourism.
But unlike previous workshops, there was no call for the city to hurry up and sell the building. To the contrary, several residents urged the city to fix up the building and lease it to tenants — but still keep the historic building in public hands.
"I was thinking you were going to tell us to get out of the real estate market," a surprised Mayor Bob Consalvo told the crowd.
Former Mayor Wendy Brenner said she believed that the ground floor of the hotel, which holds a kitchen and dining hall, could quickly be fixed up and the city could begin offering space.
"I think it's wonderful the residents want to keep the property, but it's going to be a costly keep," she said.
The city spent $2.21 million back in 2004 to buy the hotel, which has sat vacant and deteriorating for most of the years since. Previous plans to turn the building into a lecture hall or a bed-and-breakfast fell apart, and the city recently cut ties with Community Development Partners, a private firm that had proposed expanding the Hacienda into a 93-room boutique hotel with restaurant and retail spaces, plus a conference area and spa.
With that plan abandoned, city officials have changed their focus to stabilizing the building and finding ways to bring in revenue to put toward the debt service.
In January, more than 350 volunteers spent a Saturday pulling weeds, yanking out old carpet, scrubbing the kitchen and former hotel rooms, and priming the exterior for a new coat of paint. Some volunteers returned Feb. 23 to add fresh paint and make other repairs.
Council member Bill Phillips said he believes that once it's renovated, the Hacienda can generate revenue for the city by providing rental space for businesses or special events.
"Listen, I ran on the platform that I wanted to see the city get out of the real estate market, and I still believe we need to do that with other properties," Phillips said. "But this is the centerpiece of our city and we need to do this right. Once we get it rolling then we can look at our options."
Phillips said a community cleanup helped crystalize the public's desire for the city to save the building.
"When people are investing their time, then they start to feel ownership," he said.
People are not only investing their time, but money. The Pasco Economic Development Council — which the city hired to provide a marketing plan and small business assistance within the city — has begun a donation drive to pay for a costly assessment needed of the building's structural stability and air quality.
The study will be key to obtaining a certificate of occupancy for the building, which will be essential to moving forward, according to PEDC president and CEO John Hagen.
The online fundraising effort is at citizinvestor.com, a website that facilitates donor drives for civic projects. The Hacienda Hotel is featured on the home page. A click on that window takes visitors to another page dedicated to the hotel, with video of the recent cleanups as well as historical information on the building.
The drive seeks to generate $37,800 for the initial study. Eight days into the 90-day effort, more than $1,600 has been raised. Donors' credit cards will not be charged until the goal number of dollars has been reached.
Citizens can also donate by check to Hacienda renovation efforts at City Hall, 5919 Main St., said Interim City Manager Susan Dillinger.