NEW PORT RICHEY — For the first time in years, city officials are poised to pump money toward improvements around Main Street Landing, the stalled development long considered an eyesore at the city's gateway.
At a work session Tuesday night, City Council members gave administrators the green light to seek bids for streetscaping on the public right-of-way in front of the downtown project, at Main Street and River Road.
The project would include construction of curb cuts and sidewalks, as well as installation of utilities, tree grates, trees, landscaping, light fixtures and ramps for the disabled.
Efforts to get the streetscape work moving resulted from a request by Gainesville-based Main Street Landing developer Ken McGurn, who for years has also sought city financing to finish construction of the mixed-use project. McGurn did not attend Tuesday's meeting.
Funding for the streetscaping effort would come from Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue, City Manager John Schneiger said. The work on the public right-of-way would cost an estimated $132,905, plus another $16,305 for work on the private Main Street Landing property. Engineering costs are also estimated at $16,700, bringing the total tab to $165,910.
For the portion of the streetscaping on private property, the city would enter into a contract with McGurn outlining the exact scope of work and conditions for payment, including separate work orders for the public and private portions, a report by New Port Richey Development Director Lisa Fierce said.
The council's offer to fund these improvements is a monumental shift from years of acrimony between the city and McGurn, including a previous council's threats to sue the developer over inaction on the site.
Pitched in 2004, the Main Street Landing project was supposed to be a retail center and condo complex on the west bank of the Cotee River. But as financing fell through amid the real estate recession, the city's redevelopment launchpad project stalled indefinitely.
In the last year, however, McGurn has ramped up construction efforts, working to complete the shell of the building. In August, he renewed his plea for financial help from the city, saying he had spent $800,000 on the project as a show of good faith.
On Wednesday, McGurn told the Times he is in the process of buying the supplies to finish the exterior, but he did not have a timetable for its completion. He said he his dedicated to finishing it, and praised the council's decision on the streetscaping.
"The streetscape is a real positive step forward," McGurn said. "Everything is moving forward, but we're taking it one step at a time."
Mayor Bob Consalvo said Tuesday evening the city needed to do its part to keep progress going on the project.
"He's done a lot more than we have, I feel," Consalvo said of McGurn.
Council members also expressed hopes that the streetscape funding would spur McGurn to simultaneously finish the exterior construction and the roof, as well as installing windows and stucco.
Even once the outside work is done, final completion of the estimated $20 million project would still remain up in the air. Schneiger has said the city's financial woes would prevent it from providing any more funding, but tax incentives may be available to McGurn down the road.
As the city and McGurn work toward finishing the shell and the streetscape work, they will also establish a site plan and development agreement for completing the rest of the project, Schneiger said after the meeting.
For now, just finishing the exterior work and doing the streetscaping will make for a much-improved entry into the city, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said.
"That's been an eyesore for too many years," he said.