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New Port Richey forum asks: 'Should church become an arts center?'

NEW PORT RICHEY — A group that wants to turn a city-owned property into a performing arts center will hold a public meeting Wednesday to gauge community interest in the idea.

Close to a dozen supporters have spent the last year talking informally about transforming the First Baptist Church property at Orange Lake into what would be the largest performing arts center in west Pasco.

The city paid $3.1-million for the property, a prime piece of downtown real estate, in 2005 and at one time was negotiating with a developer to tear down the church and build a condominium and retail project in its place. Those negotiations fell apart, and the city's plans for redeveloping the site are foundering amid the economic downturn.

"It just seemed like the right time to bring it up," said Lia Gallegos, chairwoman of the city's cultural affairs committee, which is hosting the forum. "It could become a home base for the artist community."

Gallegos said early ideas include using the 1,000-seat former sanctuary for public gatherings and the church's ancillary buildings for offices and teaching space.

The discussion is in very early stages, and Gallegos acknowledged there are many unanswered questions, particularly when it comes to financing: How much would a private entity pay to buy the church from the city? How would it pay for the renovations and the operations?

Gallegos said she hopes there is enough countywide interest to encourage investors and developers to take part in the project. Supporters of the move also hope the city could apply for grants that might help cover some of those costs.

City Council members earlier this month decided to put out another request for proposals from private developers, one that this time includes ideas for a performing arts center at the site. Council members expressed some support for an arts center, but they also say they want to make sure whatever they pick will help recoup the city's investment.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

New Port Richey forum asks: 'Should church become an arts center?' 09/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 6:18pm]
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