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New Port Richey needs a fresh start

Imagine how Joe Alpine must feel when he steps outside his office on New Port Richey's Main Street.

As president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, it's Joe's job to feel good about the city; to make you feel good about it, too. That job is easier if he uses the back door, where he can see Sims Park and the winding Pithlachascotee River.

But out front, at the gateway to the city where politicians and business leaders have spent the last two decades trying to make the downtown area live up to its potential, it's another matter.

Developer Ken McGurn, who did wonderful things in Gainesville and four years ago seemed destined to do the same in our little River City, has left behind an ugly concrete block shell of a building surrounded by an ugly hurricane fence.

McGurn was in town the other day, telling council members that he might at least spruce up the construction site with a facade while he considers what to do next. He didn't express any urgency, and the council members, all but one new since he shut down the Mediterranean style condo/retail project two and a half years ago because of escalating costs, didn't press him. Nobody is happy about the eyesore left at one of the city's prime riverfront properties, but the politicians seemed at the developer's mercy.

How things have changed.

At the April 9, 2005, groundbreaking for Main Street Landing, business and government leaders could barely contain their excitement. "This is a real turning point in our downtown area,'' said City Manager Scott Miller. "It will set the benchmark.''

Miller is gone now. So are four of the five council members and the director of redevelopment. Ditto for the credit and condo markets.

As a longtime mayor of New Port Richey, Peter Altman convinced a council majority to spend millions on streetscaping and other improvements to the downtown core. And after he left office, he boasted that those improvements would now be instrumental in accomplishing his dream of making downtown more upscale. He sold McGurn on the idea of Main Street Landing and St. Petersburg developer Grady Pridgen on projects on the other side of the river. Altman even invested in a restaurant because he was so certain the good times would stick. They didn't, and today his restaurant sits empty with a For Sale sign out front.

Altman, once the most visible and outspoken public official in all of west Pasco, has dropped out of sight.

It really is disappointing, because whether you agreed with him or not, he got people talking about this city. He had ideas and reached beyond potential.

The most likely candidate to show some fresh leadership and vision is Mayor Scott McPherson, who did at least pose some questions to McGurn. He is relatively new at the job but has demonstrated spark and intelligence, and he grew up in the city. He needs to gather up others who truly care about his city.

A facade might help the view from the Chamber of Commerce, but it's a lot like putting lipstick on a pig. New Port Richey needs more.

New Port Richey needs a fresh start 10/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 24, 2008 6:11pm]

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