City should match Hacienda with nearby redevelopment site

Published Dec. 7, 2012

After nearly a decade of false starts, New Port Richey is back at the starting line in its search for a savior to the historic Hacienda Hotel building in downtown. The city acquired the now 85-year-old structure in 2003 without a firm plan for redevelopment, but with a litany of ideas that stretched from using it for municipal offices and other mundane functions to seeking a vendor for a bed and breakfast.

Eventually, the city settled on Community Development Partners, CDP, of Jacksonville and its idea to restore the Hacienda to its former use as a hotel with a conference center/spa/restaurant as ancillary services.

Along the way there were suggestions to: Add a parking deck with residential units on top; close Bank Street and push an addition to the hotel into Sims Park and, finally, build a separate hotel annex to the east. All of these ideas were intended to give developers the number of rooms needed to make the financing work, but only the annex remained under consideration until this week.

Tuesday night, after six years of discussions, the City Council ended its relationship with CDP after failing to come to terms on a detailed development agreement. The city simultaneously faced the prospect of the aging building falling into further disrepair. The initial plan now is to schedule a community work day to improve the decaying aesthetics as a precursor to jump-starting marketing efforts aimed to lure a new private sector partner. Toward that end, the City Council recently retained the Pasco Economic Development Council as its marketing agency to try to reverse the city's economic stagnancy.

Patched leaks and a fresh coat of paint won't hurt, but more significant hurdles must be overcome. The city's demographics of owner-occupied homes, personal income and local property values are troublesome as is the overall redevelopment budget that now requires subsidies from the city's general fund. Essentially, there are few dollars to offer economic incentives to a developer. And the immediate population lacks the disposal income levels desired by higher-end retailers/service providers.

The Hacienda Hotel project is one of three high-profile downtown redevelopment ventures that have failed to come to fruition. Main Street Landings is no longer an eyesore, but the retail/residential complex remains incomplete and a similar mixed-use project at Orange Lake never materialized. That was a key setback since the close proximity between Orange Lake Landings and the Hacienda had encouraged a working partnership between the two development proposals on parking.

That could be one of the keys to successfully marketing downtown redevelopment. Instead of considering the Hacienda and the Orange Lake sites as separate entities, perhaps the city should consider a larger-scale effort. It's next request for redevelopment proposals could ask the private sector to turn a vacant hotel and an empty lot into a boutique hotel for visitors, downtown housing for full-time residents and first-floor retailing to serve both audiences.