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Booze alone isn't New Port Richey's answer to revitalization

Let's get the confessions out of the way immediately. I am not above quaffing a lager nor sipping a pinot noir. I also am not naive enough to believe either is the key to economic revitalization of downtown New Port Richey.

But that is one of the arguments laid out this week as Mayor Scott McPherson and the New Port Richey City Council reopened the public debate about expanding alcohol sales at downtown events.

You're right if you're getting a sense of deja brew. This discussion is starting to rival the longevity of tastes-great vs. less-filling.

The mayor believes nonprofit groups holding downtown events should be allowed to sell beer and wine at publicly owned property beyond the Cavalaire Square pocket park. Specifically, the idea is to expand the availability of alcohol to Sims Park, site of the amphitheater, concerts and the largest public green space downtown. The park, however, also is home to the Paradise Playground, a community-built wooden playground that is the centerpiece of children's activities.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that increasing the ability to sell alcohol on public property will draw corporate sponsors (Corona, Miller Lite, or Budweiser come to mind) to boost the bottom line of downtown events, the proceeds of which can be pumped back into the community via other downtown activities or charitable donations.

The Greater New Port Richey Main Street's Cotee River Seafood Festival lost a potential corporate sponsor when the company discovered it would be a dry event. Sponsorships could grow the events from local draws to regional attractions, particularly if the private sector underwrites the cost of headline entertainers.

It also is relevant to point out that the current event promoters — Main Street (several festivals and one-day activities) and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce (Chasco Fiesta) are in need of new revenue sources. The reality of Amendment 1 is that budget-crunching municipal governments can't be as free with the subsidies as they were in the past.

Opponents are just as accurate to cite the playground as a safe haven from festival partying and, more to the point, that we've been down this road before at the ballot box with the electorate agreeing Sims Park should be off-limits to alcohol. In wasn't even close. In 2000, 65 percent of the voters said the city shouldn't grant permits for alcohol sales during special events and 69 percent said alcohol sales should exclude Sims Park.

There are valid points from both camps. But, the public debate shouldn't be confused by trying to tie downtown revitalization to red wine. In terms of alcohol-related lines, it ranks right up there with: What's your sign?

Suggesting increased alcohol sales at community events will spur additional economic activity — besides grabbing a meal on the way home — is intellectually dishonest. There is plenty of alcohol available downtown during special occasions, including at Cavalaire Square or private property, and at the numerous restaurants and watering holes that offer outdoor service.

It is no secret that redevelopment is slow-moving. But, the city is offering incentives to the developers of the proposed hotel at the Hacienda and the first phase of the Railroad Square is under construction. Both are intended to bring more pedestrian traffic to downtown.

Empty storefronts are a sign of the sour economy, not the lack of suds available at the country-western concert each March. A revitalized downtown will take a commitment from private sector investors beyond condo flippers. It will take local retailers with sufficient capital to weather slow times.

So, while a new ordinance is being drafted for public debate, let's have a discussion about the good deeds by nonprofits and how they can benefit from the proceeds from beer and wine sales. Let's talk about the bottom line. Main Street's two events that do sell alcohol, Main Street Blast and Night in the Tropics, are break-even ventures, even with $4,500 to $5,000 in alcohol sales, said Judy DeBella Thomas, Main Street's executive director and a council member. Let's talk about enforcement problems and let's admit that booze already flows — albeit sometimes in clandestine form — during Chasco.

All are worthy discussion points. But let's not pine that downtown revitalization hinges on once-a-month cocktail parties. That's the kind of logic you expect to hear from a drunk in a bar.

Booze alone isn't New Port Richey's answer to revitalization 08/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 5:41pm]

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