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The building could become an upscale restaurant near the Railroad Square project.

A local developer wants to renovate the former City Hall and make part of it an upscale restaurant, a move that city officials say would be a boon to the upcoming Railroad Squarestreetscaping project.

Closed up and vacant for decades, the nearly 80-year-old building occupies prime real estate, just east of Main Street's intersection with GrandBoulevard.

Developer Bob Carroll wants to use most of the building - about 3,000 square feet - for a restaurant and the remaining 1,000 square feet for a smaller business, such as a coffee shop.

He said he plans to restore the building to what it looked like in the 1960s, with exposed ceilings and large windows.

"I think it's going to be a very big project for the downtown," he said.

Though Carroll has yet to submit plans to the city, he is working with officials on a proposal that includes opening up the front and the back of the building for outdoor dining.

That's relevant because the back of the building faces Nebraska Avenue, where Railroad Square improvements - including brick-patterned pedestrian walkways and decorative streetlights - are expected to get under way this year.

Part of the city's biggest problem with that plan has been that the view from the street is the backs of several buildings.

"That's the center building in Railroad Square," said redevelopment officer Caprena Latimore, who said she thinks Carroll's plans are strong and doable.

"People like to see we're moving forward," she said. "Even one building at a time."

Built in 1930, the building housed City Hall, the library and the fire department.

The library left for another site in 1963. Other city offices followed a few years later, and about 40 years ago, Walt Casson of Casson Engineering boughtthe building.

County records show Casson is still the owner of the property, but Carroll said he closed on the property in January. The sales price was not available.

Casson planned at one point to move his engineering firm's offices to the building but ended up moving elsewhere, said Carroll. The building remained in good structural condition, city officials say, and even retains some elements of the early days. On one wall, said Latimore, there is even the old map of early fire district routes.

Carroll, whose office is in Port Richey, has worked as a developer in Pasco for more than 30 years. He's done private work, such as the Ridgewood Square shopping mall, and government work, including the Hudson Regional Library.

Carroll has known Casson for nearly 30 years, having worked together on a few projects. He said they'd been in talks for the past six months aboutthe property.

"Someone like Walt is such an established figure, very well respected," Carroll said. "I consider it a very big honor that he would entrust me with that property."

Over the years, Carroll said he had heard that working in New Port Richey could be difficult. But he said he'd been pleased with his dealings with city officials over the pastfew months.

"The whole atmosphere at the city is 'let's work together,'" he said.

"I really and truly feel that people are going to watch this project ... and I think people will get over whatever has happened in the past."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.c om or (727) 869-6247.