Main Street Landing doesn't sting the eyes quite as much as it used to and the New Port Richey City Council is smart to try to continue the make over. The improvements could include sidewalks, trees, landscaping and lights for the public right of way adjoining the still-incomplete mixed-use project that is intended to bring new retailing and residences downtown. The tab will be covered by the city's share of Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars since its $2.2 million redevelopment account is essentially broke.
The city's renewed commitment to the project is imperative considering the past acrimony over what had been envisioned as the cornerstone of private investment in a redeveloped downtown.
Gainesville developer Ken McGurn shutdown the project in 2006 after a past council declined his request for a special taxing district to help offset infrastructure costs. McGurn sought the city's assistance because construction prices had ballooned from a projected $17 million in 2004 to $33 million two years later. Saying they were tired of the unfinished construction site blighting the 3-acre parcel along the Pithlachascotee River, tough-talking council members threatened condemnation and litigation in 2008, but eventually backed off several months later.
Since then, McGurn, using $100,000 in federal stimulus dollars and what he said was $800,000 of his own money, turned the unsightly cinder-block walls with exposed rebar into a multi-story shell that at least resembles first-floor retail space topped by townhomes. Work since 2010 included pouring foundations, building stairwells and balcony columns and installing underground plumbing before starting the upper floors 11 months ago.
The exterior, however, remains incomplete and still-to-be-determined is exactly how the interior of the project will be finished.
McGurn has said he will need a sizeable investor before the project, now estimated to cost $20 million, is ready for a ribbon cutting.
Clearly, the city is not in a financial position to be that investor. Its redevelopment fund is exhausted by debt payments and personnel costs and will need to be subsidized by the city's general fund next year. City investments in other downtown properties - the former First Baptist Church site and the historic Hacienda Hotel— have yet to pay dividends, which makes the eventual success of Main Street Landing that much more significant.
A downtown with new shops and residents is much more attractive to other investors than a downtown with a unfinished building as its redevelopment centerpiece. The council is wise to offer what help it can, even if it is limited to aesthetic improvements.