While New Port Richey's redevelopment remains paralyzed by soured real estate investments in its downtown, the program's push for better recreational opportunities stands out as its most notable accomplishment.
The remaking of the aquatic and recreation center, completed nearly four years ago at a pricey $14.1 million, is an imperative quality-of-life enhancement for the city. It turned an aging municipal swimming pool and indoor basketball court into a state-of-the-art lifestyle center featuring multiple swimming pools; a 25-foot water slide; treadmills, circuit weight machines, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers in the fitness center; space for yoga and martial arts classes; and a nearly 15,000-square-foot gym.
The center's role grows in significance as other governments try to balance their budgets on the backs of their parks and recreation departments. Pasco County has shut down two of its swimming pools and reduced its recreation center operating hours, leaving New Port Richey's facilities as the only seven-day-a-week gymnasium and one of only two public pools in west Pasco.
Economics is forcing the city to forgo a planned expansion of the recreation center, but it is poised to investigate better ways to attract more paying visitors. Revenue in 2010 dropped 6 percent last year to $388,000, in part because the city didn't push its three-month summer pass program as it had in previous years. Verifying the number of people who visited the center is problematic because an automated counter at the entrance malfunctioned. Attendance registered at 220,000 for 2010. If accurate, it would have meant an attendance drop of nearly one-third. That is doubtful since the 6 percent revenue decline is significantly less.
Whatever the actual number, the city is seeking to boost its participation with middle-of-the-day offerings for adults, seniors and homeschooled students. And a marketing study will compare New Port Richey's facility to comparable others to determine if user fees should be altered to shrink the $700,000 operating deficit.
Shrinking, however, does not mean eliminate. It is an important distinction. The recreation department shouldn't be construed as a profit center. Its job is to increase the quality of life for local residents. The success of that mission is unquestioned.