NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is again putting big bucks into addressing its parking crunch downtown.
On Dec. 17, New Port Richey City Council members, sitting as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, approved paying $61,000 for the engineering and design of a parking lot project downtown. The 2019 Nebraska Avenue Parking Lot Improvements Project is slated to combine two existing lots into one to obtain more spots for visitors.
The project will be a joint venture by the city and Pasco County; the county owns one of the two lots. New Port Richey will pay for designing and building it.
In February, the Pasco County Commission agreed to an inter-local agreement with the city to combine two lots downtown south of Nebraska Avenue and east of Lafayette Street. The county owns the lot from Lafayette Street, east to Bank Street and south of Nebraska Avenue. The city owns the lot from Bank, east to the private parking lot behind the Richey Suncoast Theatre on Main Street, according to city documents. The initial planning by Kimley-Horn and Associates will help the city with the bid process and determining the cost of the project.
Combining the lots will create one lot of a little more than an acre and increase the number of parking spaces from 71 to 102. The plan includes installing new landscaping and stormwater improvements.
This latest effort is part of an overall plan to address parking shortages downtown. The shortage has worsened with city’s bustling nighttime and special event scene in recent years, coupled with two apartment projects coming to fruition and renovation of the historic Hacienda Hotel, which is slated to re-open in late 2020.
In November, the council agreed to spend nearly $1 million to revamp the Gloria Swanson parking lot, which sits next to Hacienda, with hopes of completing the project before the hotel opens.
The Nebraska project won unanimous support, but drew funding concerns from Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey. In October, Starkey voted against purchasing a former Walgreen’s property fronting U.S. 19 at Main Street for about $1.7 million. Starkey voted for the Nebraska parking project, calling it a good one, but asked why Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars weren’t being used to pay for it.
“I just look at our CRA being in so much debt," he said, "and we are buying a building for $1.6, $1.7 million on top of that. Why do we keep using funds from the program that we are in debt service to, rather than just money coming in from Penny for Pasco?”
City Manager Debbie Manns said the funds for the Nebraska design and engineering were in the current CRA budget, but were mistakenly presented to council as being paid for by Penny for Pasco dollars.