The city of New Port Richey remains stymied, at least temporarily, on its redevelopment of the Hacienda Hotel building that dates to the roaring '20s and the city's past ambitions to rival Hollywood as a movie-making mecca.
The current plans to remake the shuttered building into a boutique hotel, spa and conference center hit a snag this week when a title search revealed the city cannot allow the private developers to expand westward. Deed restrictions and the U.S. Department of Interior, which provided prior funding, mandate the adjoining parcels be used exclusively for a public park.
We have never been fond of the idea of tearing down the community-built playground in Sims Park to allow the Hacienda project to proceed and the title search now confirms that cannot happen. Still, the city says the 22-year-old massive wooden playground has outlasted its useful lifespan and will be replaced either at its current location, or perhaps elsewhere in Sims Park.
New playground equipment aside, the city's more pressing matter is trying to resuscitate the hotel/spa proposal from Community Development Partners of Jacksonville. The group now is contemplating a last-ditch idea to construct a separate building in the city-owned Gloria Swanson parking lot across Bank Street from the Hacienda. The extra space is required because developers say they need to expand the 55-room building into a 93-room hotel to make the project financially feasible.
There are plenty of details to be worked out under the latest proposal including a new construction time line, financing, a firm contract and the likely demolition of the neighboring city-owned structure at 6345 Grand Blvd. known as the old post office that was last used by the former First Baptist Church.
A previous plan to close Bank Street and allow the Hacienda to expand eastward never came to fruition because of federal concerns about interrupting the city's street grid. Separating the project into a second, separate building in the parking lot across Bank Street alleviates that roadblock.
The Hacienda's proximity to Sims Park, the Pithlachascotee River and the nearby commercial district as well as the building's architectural and historical significance make it an inviting redevelopment candidate.
The former hotel was built in 1927 when New Port Richey wanted to become the Hollywood of the South. By the mid-1980s, its mission turned to housing for the mentally ill until the city acquired it eight years ago as part of an ambitious but slow-to-materialize downtown redevelopment.
If Community Development Partners declines the latest city plan, it likely means the city will need to start again by seeking new development requests from the private sector. That would be an understandable, but disappointing setback.
Regardless, the city shouldn't give up on recouping its investment, enlivening downtown and returning this local landmark to public use.