NEW PORT RICHEY — The increased popularity of Sims Park following $3 million in upgrades completed in 2016 has been a double-edged sword for city leaders.
The revamped Main Street park has been a major factor in redeveloping New Port Richey’s downtown, but it is taking a pounding from increased daily traffic and special events that draw thousands of people.
The New Port Richey City Council fears that its investment is being trampled. That led to a work session Tuesday called to discuss remedies for controlling and repairing damage from events.
“I walk through the park on a regular basis, and I saw our huge investment just going down the tubes,” Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey said.
In response to council concerns, city staffers made numerous proposals: banning golf cart use inside the park; scheduling “blackouts” in the events schedule for maintenance, such as putting down sod where grass has been trampled; and tighter restrictions on where vendors can set up trucks and tents.
The biggest change for the public may be not being able to drive golf carts through the park during events. A city ordinance allows golf carts only on city streets, but people frequently drive through the park during events, and the city risks someone getting hurt as a result, City Manager Debbie Manns told council members.
“We have just been sort of turning a blind eye to the fact that they are used there,” she said.
City council members agreed that carts shouldn’t be allowed in Sims Park during non-city events. Instead, they agreed to establishing a designated parking area for golf carts.
Council member Chopper Davis also expressed concern for safety when drinking alcohol is intertwined with driving golf carts.
“Realistically, there is alcohol in these carts, they can go up to 20 mph, and they are mixed in a park with kids,” he said.
In related news, the city plans to better communicate with residents and businesses when it plans to close roads for special events.
Mayor Rob Marlowe, who owns a downtown business, has long called for such measures. And the city has fielded complaints from residents who say they were uninformed of traffic changes prior to an event.
City staffers will handle road-closure notifications, rather than leaving it to event planners. Providing notices in water bills and detailed maps to affected parties would be an way to cut down both costs and complaints, New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart said.