For the past 28 years, I've had the pleasure of residing in New Port Richey. There is a genuine community in this wonderful little city. New Port Richey has the finest residents, civil servants, and business owners anyone could hope to meet.
During my early days of downtown redevelopment, when New Port Richey first won the Florida Main Street designation, that community came together with so much focus and drive. It was pretty exciting.
The best part was how New Port Richey managed to hold on to its family-friendly history and community-oriented character. Even as progress revitalized the features of the historic downtown, I always appreciated how the folks who live here held on to family values.
The City Council is now grappling with an update to an ordinance from the 1960s that was revised in 2005. A proposed modification would allow sales and use of alcohol on public land.
I know the reasoning for this is to allow our community's many nonprofit organizations a way to make more money at their events by selling beer, and I cannot fault a nonprofit for trying to expand fundraising opportunities. Who doesn't enjoy a refreshing brew at enjoyable gatherings? I know I do. But that's not the question here. This ordinance is not about personal choice, but rather the community's vision of itself, its history, and its character.
This matter of alcohol sales on public land was put to the vote back in 1999 and a large majority of the voters said no. If put to referendum again, I have no doubt the vote would be the same.
Why did 65 percent of the voting residents vote "no?" Could it be that they do not believe our quality of life in New Port Richey would be enhanced by allowing sales of alcohol in city parks?
It has been suggested that allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol at these events will attract more people, as if the event wasn't the primary reason for attending. Well, I don't really believe that people attend park events just because they can purchase an adult beverage, nor do I believe that allowing such sales makes the city more sophisticated or more hip.
Sims Park is a very close walk to a downtown center that some of us have spent more than 20 years revitalizing. Why take business away from those pubs and restaurants that have a license to serve alcohol?
There is more at stake than making money for good causes through sales of alcohol. New Port Richey is an oasis of a town with a charm and character quite distinct from the chaos of U.S. 19 and the surrounding area. It boasts an unusual cultural environment and a sense of place increasingly rare today. Its peaceful river and park evoke a time when the world seemed more tranquil and life more manageable.
We are not a city that can handle (nor should we want to) massive events. What we should do is have a schedule with a variety of events, concerts, forums, and so on that are planned on a regular basis in downtown — the heart center of our community — that will also encourage family gatherings, shopping at local stores and shops, and dining at local restaurants. Our city can become a destination for persons seeking cultural enrichment, entertainment and recreation with a responsible mix of events, and we don't need the enticement of alcohol to bring them here.
Marilynn deChant is a New Port Richey City Council member.