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Development groups should keep talking

Imagine a first date between two marriage-minded people ending when one learns the other is in debt.

That's the scenario among two business-development agencies in west Pasco, where the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street New Port Richey are in the early stages of courtship. Though it is difficult to gauge the prospect for a successful long-term marriage at this stage, we encourage the two parties to keep working on the romance.

The obstacles to such a union are large. Most notably, the Main Street group is more than $7,000 in debt and the chamber does not want to absorb money troubles, particularly after having its own past financial difficulties.

There are questions of autonomy, contractual obligations, tax status and other issues. But the benefits of a coordinated business promotion effort in downtown New Port Richey and west Pasco are worthwhile.

It gives instant credibility and a larger volunteer base to the Main Street group, which has had a mediocre track record and a membership list of only 35. Main Street, formerly the Downtown Cooperative, languished for years before it retained its current executive director, Laura Turner, in July. Turner's energy and new ideas have helped to rebuild confidence in the group, which promotes downtown New Port Richey and is the designated agency to implement the state's Main Street goals.

The 1,000-member chamber, charged with developing business in all of west Pasco, not just downtown New Port Richey, can benefit by potentially adding an events coordinator, a staff position it currently does not have budgeted. It also can improve efficiency by reducing duplicate printing and postage costs and increase exposure via an aggressive schedule of downtown events assembled by Main Street.

A major attraction is the $15,000 appropriation for administrative costs Main Street received from the city of New Port Richey in the current fiscal year. But, therein lies a paradox _ the chamber wants the administrative funding to continue, but doesn't want to pay off the Main Street debt, which includes $3,000 owed to the city. Looking for a long-term handout without assuming other responsibilities is the wrong way to start a relationship.

Main Street is confident the debt will be paid off because it hasn't yet received city reimbursements for its Founder's Day and holiday events. Still, many unknowns remain, including the status of the city's annual subsidy in future years.

A merger is not expected soon. The chamber's fiscal year ends in June, and Main Street won't know the likelihood of continued financial help from the city until budget deliberations in the fall.

In the meantime, the two groups should continue talking. United, not competitive, business development programs would benefit commerce in west Pasco.