NEW PORT RICHEY — Excitement is brewing as the public will get its first look Saturday at the city's ambitious revamp of Sims Park.
The city has planned a free day of family fun, entertainment and food for the public at the grand reopening of the downtown park, off Main Street, beginning with a performance at 12:30 p.m. by the Gulf High School Jazz Band, followed by a 1 p.m. ribbon cutting.
There will be all kinds of festivities after the ceremony, including a performance by Coastal Acoustic Barefoot Music, free food samples from local downtown restaurants dubbed "Taste of New Port Richey," the 2015 Hess Truck & Star Wars itty-bittys Giveaways, a touch-a-truck event featuring city vehicles, and tai chi and yoga demonstrations.
The reopening marks the culmination of years of planning by the New Port Richey City Council to renovate the park and replace a beloved wooden playground built by the community more than two decades ago. The city closed the park in June to embark on the project, which City Manager Debbie Manns said will be completed just under the budget of about $3 million.
The park will now include a splash pad, two new playgrounds — one for young children and another for older children — as well as newly paved walkways, a Fit Zone for adults, new restrooms and improved landscaping. The public also will be able to enjoy a layout that has made Sims Parks contiguous to adjacent Orange Lake.
The day will be a great one for the city, said Mayor Rob Marlowe, who witnessed construction in the park from his downtown business.
"I'm too excited for words," Marlowe said. "The project is going to wind up being more fantastic than we could have dreamed."
City officials are not the only ones looking forward to the park's reopening. A group of people that has long fed people who are homeless in Sims is looking forward to restarting the tradition and plans to be present Saturday.
Prior to the park's closing, Land O'Lakes resident James Bishop, his family and several other friends regularly served breakfast in the park, and on the last Saturday of every month served lunch. They plan to do so during Saturday's reopening celebration, Bishop told the Times.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the city will take any action. In November, the City Council passed a controversial ordinance that restricts organizations to two group feedings in the park per year. And groups feeding more than 15 people need a $75 permit. Violators can face a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail.
In November, Bishop blasted the ordinance as uncaring, and he maintained this week that the ordinance does not apply to him and his friends because they are not affiliated with any official group or organization. Instead, he referred to the food he offers as a "picnic."
"Who is a government official to tell me who I can and can't serve food to?" Bishop said.
New Port Richey police Chief Kim Bogart said he does not anticipate anyone intentionally violating the ordinance, but if there is a flagrant violation it will be enforced. In general, Bogart said, his department will keep a close eye on all activities in the park moving forward.
"We are going to be closely monitoring the park as it reopens and the activities that happen in it," he said.