PORT RICHEY — When it comes to city parkland, there's no bigger tract than Waterfront Park.
Featuring a playground, a shelter and a dock on Millers Bayou, the grassy 13 acres drew the attention of city leaders hoping to hold a big barbecue cook-off.
So imagine their annoyance when, in the middle of planning the event, they learned that the park had an unwelcome surprise.
No concessions without asking the state two months early, the park's deed says. State officials can forbid such sales at any time. Hopes of turning the park into a popular attraction on the same level as New Port Richey's Sims Park seemed dead in the water.
"It's really difficult to attract any sort of event to the park if you don't have vendors," council member Perry Bean said. "It's practically impossible."
The Florida Communities Trust, which granted the park at 8119 Old Post Road to the city in 1997, deemed it "passive, natural" land where vendors would likely "not be permitted, … as they may have negative legal and tax consequences." The trust has granted millions toward conserving green space across the state, including the James E. Grey Preserve on the Pithlachascotee River in New Port Richey.
Yet in the years since former Mayor Eileen Ferdinand signed for the land, the issue has never come up before, Bean said. Now city officials are looking for ways to use the park within the rules.
One idea: have vendors set up outside the Seaside Inn just south of the park. To get there, though, visitors would need to walk a few hundred feet around a bayou canal and out to Old Post Road.
Officials suggested creating a temporary pontoon bridge to draw in upcoming events, such as a Coastal Conservation Association fundraiser and a May fishing and boat show, though nothing has been decided yet.
Mayor Richard Rober said officials will file requests for barbecue vendors, a band and face-painters for the city's 85th anniversary this year.
"We're really wanting to start focusing on using Waterfront Park as an attraction," Bean said, "but right now we're kind of at a standstill."
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.