A decade after declaring the entire city blighted, Port Richey is staring at a high-profile prophecy of that designation. The Port Richey Mobile Home Park, sitting between U.S. 19 and the city's waterfront park, is 5 acres of ugliness littered with stripped trailers, mobile home shells, the charred remains of two recent fires, abandoned furnishings and piles of trash. Wednesday morning, a backhoe sat nearby, waiting to commence the demolition that could clear the way for a long-awaited signature redevelopment project within the city.
The park's origins date to 1950 with the construction of a cottage home — torched by suspected vandals this summer — on the site. The shuffleboard court came 10 years later, and the mobile home park provided affordable housing in an era before luxurious waterfront homes. It co-existed between the bustle of U.S. 19 and the serenity of nearby Miller's Bayou until investors bought it six years ago for $2.5 million with stated plans to lure a hotel and a restaurant to the high-profile location.
Instead, the real estate bubble burst, the park deteriorated, and, in May, the city declared it a health hazard and condemned it. A dispute with the previous owner delayed the razing, but a bank now controls the property and hired a contractor to demolish the eyesore.
The soon-to-be-vacant parcel, already zoned for commercial use, sits at one of the prime gateways to Port Richey's underutilized waterfront district, dominated by a trio of restaurants, parking for off-shore gambling boats and fenced empty lots. It is a grand opportunity for the city and the private sector to finally capitalize on a waterfront conceptual plan that dates to the late 1990s. Then, planners envisioned a thriving area of two hotels, shops, offices, townhomes, a museum, a bed and breakfast and a parking garage, all connected by a boardwalk on the north side of the Pithlachascotee River. It is disappointing that none of that materialized and that the city's redevelopment efforts instead focused on unsuccessful attempts to dredge residential canals.
Port Richey's meager financial resources don't present many opportunities for partnering with private developers. But a U.S. 19 corridor plan devised by Pasco County does include the idea of a San Antonio-like river-walk area along the Pithlachascotee between Port Richey and New Port Richey. Toward that end, the city would be wise to consult with Pasco County planners on a long-term vision for its waterfront before authorizing the redevelopment of the mobile home park site.
Visitors entering Port Richey from the north see a vacant restaurant building as the third structure inside the city limits. The business climate along U.S. 19 doesn't get much better, though a convenience store is under construction near the corner of Ridge Road. Otherwise, empty storefronts and overgrown lots are numerous in this town of just 2,700 people.
Razing the dilapidated mobile home park is an important beautification effort. Making sure the land's future use is both an asset to the city and a successful gateway to the waterfront is even more imperative.