NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is poised to enter into new talks with two developers interested in restoring the historic Hacienda Hotel.
It's been more than a year since the city council cut ties with Jacksonville-based Community Development Partners after legal hurdles to expansion and a down economy repeatedly stalled six years of redevelopment negotiations.
Since then, the city has sponsored a community cleanup of the Main Street property — which it bought in 2004 for $2.1 million — that drew hundreds of volunteers who gave the former hotel a paint job. The city also renovated its well-known courtyard fountain, but what to do further with the 1927 landmark has remained up in the air.
During a meeting last week, the council selected two developers, Florida Motel Inc., of Yulee, and Birmingham, Ala., firm Legacy Lodging LLC, to try to nail down a long-elusive vision for the property. Legal requirements mandate the next step will be to rank the two companies before starting negotiations.
The city's economic development director, Mario Iezzoni, recommended the board rank Legacy first, saying the company has considerable hotel development experience.
In addition, Legacy will soon begin the restoration of the historic Redmont Hotel in Birmingham, which aligns with how the company would handle the Hacienda, company president James Lewis Jr. wrote to the city. He could not be reached for comment on this story.
Once renovation is complete on the Redmont, Legacy plans to turn over its operations to a New Hampshire hotel management firm called Hay Creek, which would be the plan for the Hacienda.
Iezzoni told the council Legacy has proposed seeking federal and state tax credits as a vehicle for redevelopment of the Hacienda into a 50-room boutique hotel with food and beverage opportunities and meeting space.
Iezzoni recommended the council rank Florida Motel second if talks with Legacy do not result in a deal. But an unscheduled in-person pitch from the company's president, Abraham Rosner, prompted the board to hold off on rankings to get more details from both companies.
Rosner's presentation caught the board's attention when he pledged not to rely on tax credits he said could be slow in coming, instead putting up his own cash to renovate the Hacienda, like he recently did in restoring a 100-room hotel in Yulee called Florida Hotel. He also pledged to live in the area during construction, personally run the hotel once it's finished and use local contractors to do the work. His plans include about 50 rooms along with a restaurant and bar in the building.
While Legacy's proposal said the company wishes to acquire the Hacienda for redevelopment, Rosner did not specify whether he would seek to buy the building from the city or enter a private/public partnership of some kind.
"Once the city decides which entity they will be moving forward with, then it will be time to look at what options are available," Rosner told the Times.
City Council member Judy DeBella Thomas said she was impressed that Rosner would drive several hours to address council member and said his passion for the Hacienda matches the city's. Meanwhile, Mayor Bob Consalvo got permission from the city attorney to allow Rosner's presentation without Legacy officials present.
"I just want to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to be heard," Consalvo said.