NEW PORT RICHEY -- It could be a very happy holiday season for New Port Richey if projections come to fruition for reopening the historic Hacienda Hotel.
Construction is moving along quickly on the 1927 landmark Main Street hotel that bustled with Hollywood silent movie stars in its heyday. The hotel's renovator, James Gunderson, believes the Hacienda may open as a boutique hotel in the building's historic footprint just after Christmas, economic development director Mario Iezzoni told council members during a strategic planning session on Monday.
It is a stunning turnaround for a beloved building that many thought could be lost to disrepair after years of dormancy and dilapidation amid the devastating recession more than a decade ago. New Port Richey has owned the hotel since 2004, when it purchased the Hacienda for more than $2 million during the real estate boom.
Excitement is brewing over the projected reopening, leading council members to talk about a big marketing push. They will consider creating a city marketing position, hiring someone to help them tell the story of New Port Richey's downtown renaissance of residential and commercial development, and the emergence of a growing entertainment and arts scene.
"Now is definitely the time to get that ramped up," said council member Matt Murphy. "I've always felt that we needed that anchor, something cohesive to pull the city together, to really have a story to talk about, and that's the Hacienda,"
The council also heard from council member Peter Altman that a big name in local real estate may consider building a residential development across the street from the Hacienda. Details are slim, but the city could learn next week what Grady Pridgen has in mind for property he owns along Main Street.
Pridgen is well-known in Tampa Bay for his explosive rise to a real estate portfolio worth an estimated $4 billion during the boom-time of the early 2000s. Then by 2011, the recession had led to him and his companies defaulting on loans totaling $60 million.
The discussion at Monday's meeting also turned to the Richey Suncoast Theater, another historic facility on Grand Boulevard downtown. It could be another element in generating buzz for the city, council members said. Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey called the theater a gem and requested a work session to discuss the future of the non-profit theater with its board of directors.
"It's a huge positive resource we have downtown that is 100 percent, completely under-utilized in my opinion," Starkey said.