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College campus to revitalize gateway into New Port Richey

The city agreed to buy properties at U.S. 19 and Main Street. A developer will build a new Keiser University campus and possibly a hotel.

NEW PORT RICHEY — A fast-moving real estate deal has emerged to revitalize New Port Richey’s valuable, but troubled gateway at U.S. 19 and Main Street for a Keiser University campus that could be followed by a parking garage and hotel.

In a matter of months, a city plan to purchase a former Walgreen’s property at the corner has evolved. The new agreement includes purchasing adjacent property that holds the dilapidated former Suncoast News building, as well as property that held a recently razed gyro and seafood restaurant.

But the city will not be holding the land for long.

Instead, a simultaneous closing will allow the New Port Richey Community Redevelopment Agency to immediately sell all three properties to Keiser developers.

The idea was met on Tuesday with unanimous excitement of the Redevelopment Agency board, which is made up of New Port Richey City Council members.

“I can’t be happier than to be a part of this project,” said Council member Chopper Davis.

In a 5-0 vote, the board agreed to buy the Suncoast News and restaurant properties for $2.5 million, in addition to the $1.75 million for the Walgreen’s property. Together, the collected property of about 4.6 acres cost $4.25 million.

The board then voted to sell 4.5 acres to Ft. Lauderdale-based Kennan Development Group, which plans to build a 41,000-square-foot Keiser University campus. As part of that deal, the city will hold onto just under an acre fronting U.S. 19 on which to build a gateway project marking New Port Richey’s entrance.

A second phase of the project includes an option allowing the city to build a stacked parking structure. Kennan would donate 1.45 acres of its property for that project. The university could re-purpose what it would have used for surface parking to instead develop a hotel, such as a Hampton or Holiday Inn.

Currently, Keiser is leasing space down the road at 6014 U.S. 19. With that lease expiring, Keiser had planned to build a new campus in Port Richey, on U.S. 19 frontage at Grand Boulevard. That was before the New Port Richey deal emerged.

Kennan still has a contract pending to buy the Port Richey property, but it remains unclear whether the sale will be completed.

“We are still considering all our options concerning the Port Richey property,” Keenan chief financial officer Dale Chynoweth told the Tampa Bay Times.

The property deal is a financial wash for the city, but it will pay a projected $2.1 million in tax incentives to Kennan as part of the deal.

The city believes it will recoup that money by creating an education hub that provides a significantly increased tax base and economic boost with an influx of 1,000 students and 100 employees, City Manager Debbie Manns said.

The new site is projected to be a $12 million investment by Keiser, with construction slated to begin this summer and be completed in April 2021. And the project will take a key corner from being an “eyesore” to being a project that generates interest in redevelopment on U.S. 19 and downtown, Manns said.

“They reflect poorly on the image of the city,” Manns said of the properties’ current state.