The New Port Richey City Council correctly decided this week its downtown is worthy of continued investment. In this case, the public contribution is not via bricks and mortar construction, but the annual Chasco Fiesta that draws tens of thousands of visitors to the city and surrounding area each spring.
Tuesday, the council indicated a willingness to contribute approximately $40,000 toward the 2012 festival, a little less than half of what the city had estimated it spends annually on police, public works and other ancillary costs for the 11-day event. It is a welcome, though stop-gap measure for the coming year with the city and festival steering committee promising to better track expenses and revenues.
Certainly accountability is imperative, particularly as the city continues to wrestle with a budget constrained by falling property values, debt payments for its Community Redevelopment Agency, and a declining population that will mean fewer state revenue sharing dollars.
Chasco is the largest of 18 special events that drew city scrutiny because of a combined $184,000 tab to the public. In response, several sponsoring organizations promised to provide more volunteers and other assistance to reduce the city's expense of their events.
While the city had focused on the expense side of the ledger, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, Chasco Fiesta Steering Committee and other nonprofits emphasized the economic benefits.
A private firm commissioned by the chamber estimated the local economy received as much as a $2.8 million bump from Chasco, which draws an estimated 140,000 people, a third of whom come from outside the community.
While the dollar figures seems a tad generous, the importance of Chasco and other downtown events shouldn't be marginalized. Chasco Fiesta originated as a fundraiser for the municipal library and evolved into an 11-day event that provides opportunities for more than 30 nonprofits to generate revenue.
Being the host to these special events is not free. City employees, for instance, must put up pedestrian and traffic barriers before parades and pick up trash afterward. That is where the added volunteers — and in at least one instance, inmate labor from the county jail – will be of substantial use. The charity groups aren't out to gouge the city, and the council is wise to recognize the value of renewed partnerships with the private groups.
For two decades, the city of New Port Richey has emphasized the attributes of its downtown. The list of public investments is substantial: A new library/city hall; improved Sims Park amphitheater and river walk; sidewalks, decorative lighting and other streetscape features; the Cavalier Square pocket park and Railroad Square pedestrian area; funding for the downtown cooperative and its successor, the Greater New Port Richey Main Street; and the real estate deals that have not yet realized their intent — private-sector housing, retailing, or hospitality at Main Street, Orange Lake and the former Hacienda Hotel.
All of that points to a city with a long history of trying to develop a vibrant downtown. Contributing to Chasco and other events is simply a worthy extension of the same mission.