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As renovation work begins, concerns arise over grant funding for Hacienda

 
The Hacienda Hotel, a historic site in New Port Richey, is undergoing construction and stabilization work.
The Hacienda Hotel, a historic site in New Port Richey, is undergoing construction and stabilization work.
Published Jan. 21, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY — Construction and stabilization work on the historic Hacienda Hotel has begun amid concerns over funding and a disagreement with the city's developer over demolition of part of the structure.

In the coming months, the 1920s hotel will see its first extensive rehabilitation since New Port Richey bought it in 2004 for $2.21 million. Since then, it has remained vacant as plans with prospective developers have fallen through. Now, it is fenced off for initial construction, which is slated to be completed by June.

Last year, the city entered into a development agreement with Yaakov Rosner, and his son, Avi, to restore the structure as a boutique hotel. The Rosners, who redeveloped another hotel in North Florida's Yulee, pledged to put forward $2 million in cash to pay for the project, which drew interest from the City Council.

Excitement also rose as the city obtained a $1 million grant from the state to stabilize the hotel, which is funding the initial construction work that began this week. It includes weatherproofing, roof work and demolishing an addition on the north side of the Hacienda to return it to its original 1920s footprint.

But when the City Council learned that the grant money would not cover near as many repairs as once thought, Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips called for a work session, which was held Tuesday. Specifically, in December, city officials told the council that the grant would not cover replacing the building's windows and doors to their historic origin, which could raise the price tag by about $1.2 million.

Phillips expressed concern that the developers would be expecting more work to have been done when the city turns the rehabilitated shell over to the Rosners for completion, and he urged city officials not to wait until June to identify whether the city will need to spend more money on the building. The Rosners did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment by the Times after the meeting.

"I hoped that the million dollars would have gone a lot further down the road in conjunction with our development partner than where it is," Phillips said.

The city has made no promises to the Rosners as to what work the $1 million will cover other than to assure them that the funds are being spent in the best interest of the Hacienda, said Mario Iezzoni, New Port Richey economic development director.

Iezzoni also addressed a rift that emerged with the Rosners over the planned demolition of the north side of the Hacienda, taking away an addition that is covering the hotel's original historic rear facade. After reaching the development agreement, the Rosners informed the city they wanted the addition kept, Iezzoni said.

But all along, discussions had focused on taking down the addition, according to Iezzoni, and keeping it likely would not pass muster with the state, whose grant is through its historical division, which has strict parameters on using public trust funds. Iezzoni added, however, that the Rosners have indicated they are still committed to the project.

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City Council member Jeff Starkey stressed that the Rosners were not promised anything concerning how far the $1 million would go for repairs and called any work covered by the grant a bonus for the Rosners, who were interested in redeveloping the hotel before the city obtained the funding.

The city also was up front about the intent to demolish the north-side addition for historic value, he said.

"I just want it to be clear that we're not pulling any cheap shots here," Starkey said.