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Developers clear hurdle in Hacienda Hotel expansion

NEW PORT RICHEY — The efforts to redevelop the historic Hacienda Hotel with an eastward expansion are clear to move forward.

The project had been on hold as the city's legal team investigated who owned an easement within the Gloria Swanson parking lot, off Bank Street, where Jacksonville developers Community Development Partners hope to partner with the city to build a hotel tower to pair with the existing Hacienda building.

It turns out the city owns the easement, allowing project planning to resume, according to City Manager John Schneiger.

"We were very excited to learn the news," he said.

The easement was another in a long line of obstacles that has thwarted progress on redeveloping the Hacienda since the city purchased the Main Street building nearly a decade ago. A down economy stalled progress in recent years, and in March, the city learned it could not expand the hotel westward into Sims Park due to title constraints that mandated the land remain a park.

With CDP officials' first choice of moving west to construct a 93-room boutique hotel dashed, city leaders pitched the idea of building part of the hotel northeast, in the Gloria Swanson parking lot.

CDP vice president Andy Ham said his company accepted the idea as economically viable but needed the easement issue cleared.

"We are excited to have all the title issues resolved and look forward to moving forward," Ham said Wednesday.

The good news for the city is coupled with the knowledge that it could still be years before the project is complete, as planning efforts need to be redone.

In February, the City Council approved a time line for progress with CDP. It was nonbinding agreement for the public/private partnership in which CDP pledged to secure financing by July 2013 and begin construction in January 2014. But with moving west not an option, a new time line must be drawn up and accepted by council, meaning the delays from the previous plan, according to Ham.

"Presumably it slides everything because we have to start over," he said.

No plans are set for how the hotel will be constructed, but Ham has said initial thoughts are for the historic building along Main Street to be refurbished with restaurant and retail space on the first floor, and conference space, a spa and hotel suites on the second.

Additional rooms would be built in a tower on the Gloria Swanson parking lot, which would not connect to the existing historic structure. An old post office building adjacent to the parking lot would also need to be razed for parking, Schneiger has said.