A little-known public asset is about to get a welcome face-lift that will better meet Port Richey's recreational needs and potentially create what city officials hope will be a hub for ecotourism.
Port Richey's Waterfront Park on Old Post Road is just one block west of bustling U.S. 19, but is so under-utilized that some residents in close-by communities didn't even know it existed. The city acquired the 13 acres adjoining a canal and fronting Miller's Bayou in 1997 and made piecemeal improvements over the next seven years. Still, the park often looks unkempt and neglected compared to the higher-profile county parks along the coast.
However, last week the Port Richey City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, previewed a new master plan for the park that calls for $2.4 million worth of improvements. Over time, the plan would add a welcome plaza with a pavilion and rest rooms, better parking, new trails, a boardwalk, and a playground accessible to children with disabilities and special needs.
The park is a key component of the city's redevelopment that also includes a long-discussed, but never realized, waterfront district abutting the park. It would mix commercial, residential and recreation uses along the mouth of the Pithlachascotee River and Miller's Bayou.
In particular, the 2012 demolition of a vacant and dilapidated mobile home park across the street from the park has opened up space for new commercial activity on U.S. 19 that could spur more nature-loving visitors to the amenities at Waterfront Park.
Commerce, however, is just part of the equation. The slow pace of developing the nearby Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park increases the importance of providing adequate outdoor recreational opportunities to city residents. An improved Waterfront Park can do just that, supplying a respite of green space along with fishing and kayaking outlets. All are a short walk from the eight lanes of heavily traveled asphalt and commercial ugliness of U.S. 19.
Council members are understandably excited about the park's potential. Residents should be as well. The park, City Manager Tom O'Neill said, is really a jewel. Indeed. It could be. The task for council is to ensure the park plan doesn't sit around collecting dust.
The city must devise an appropriate financing plan of local redevelopment money and hoped-for grant dollars to transform Waterfront Park from an under-appreciated resource into a visible and highly valuable asset for the community.