NEW PORT RICHEY — The emergence of a bustling nightlife scene, a busy downtown park and a new residential market in downtown New Port Richey has been fruitful, but not enough to squash negative perceptions of the revitalized city.
So said New Port Richey City Council members during a work session Tuesday as the city heard more about a marketing and branding plan for its downtown and U.S. 19 corridor.
The city’s consultant, Greenville, S.C.-based Arnett Muldrow and Associates, discussed with council members its vision for New Port Richey. Followup meetings will seek public input on the plan.
Consultant Aaron Arnett — whose firm is being paid $44,600 for the project — suggested it would include new logos, slogans describing what the city has to offer, surveys to gauge community perceptions, market analysis to determine economic development strategies, the creation of advertising templates and so-called “wayfinding” to help visitors traverse the area.
Arnett asked council members what they believe the current perception is of the city, and some frustration emerged.
Good things are happening downtown, council members said, such as the newly built apartments, renovation of the Hacienda Hotel and renovation of downtown real estate that have turned the tide of struggling economics and empty streets in the wake of the last recession.
But those good things have not ended perception problems for the city among members of the public and on social media, Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey said. He still combats commentary that the city is “dirty” and “rundown.”
Starkey also asked Arnett to look for ways to differentiate between the footprint of the city and the sizable portion of Pasco County that has a New Port Richey address, but is not in the city. Starkey said he often fields negative inquiries about crime and blight outside the city.
“That’s been a huge, huge obstacle,” he said.
Mayor Rob Marlowe concurred, saying the city has about 16,000 residents, while some 150,000 people have New Port Richey addresses. New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart said media reports about crime in the county often are not clearly defined as happening outside the city.
“It’s blamed on the city. I get this all the time,” Bogart said.
City Council member Chopper Davis touched on why he pushed for a marketing effort for the city. Davis said he often hears a similar refrain as he talks with visitors downtown.