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New Port Richey will have vacant sites to fill

Redevelopment of properties and lost revenues pose long-term challenges to the city even as it enjoys new amenities.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


NEW PORT RICHEY -- In the coming year, residents will get a batch of improved city services and amenities.

But the specter of new costs and big questions about future redevelopment are looming.

Community-oriented policing, a new city Web site, drainage improvements and more reclaimed water lines are on their way to New Port Richey residents in 2003.

For those seeking a more convenient place to enjoy the outdoors, the James E. Grey Preserve recently opened. It offers hiking trails, a canoe launch and picnic areas.

The city also will start negotiations with owners of the Hacienda, the 1920s era-hotel now used as a home for the mentally ill. Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, which operates the home, started discussing a buyout package last year. City Council members have discussed restoring the hotel to its original grandeur and converting it for some sort of commercial use that will draw traffic and revenues downtown.

Meanwhile, the city will be figuring out how to redevelop the areas surrounding a large swath of soon-to-be-vacant properties, including All Children's Hospital Specialty Care Clinic, Community and North Bay hospitals. A consultant's study on how to market the city to potential commercial users is due in June.

The departures, all of which are planned to happen over the next five years, could cost the city $245,000 annually in lost property tax revenue, and also mean the loss of 1,525 jobs. Plus, the moves will leave about 436,000 square feet of city real estate vacant.

But due sooner is a debate -- that could be contentious -- about how to pay for basic city services.

In late 2002, City Council members signaled their intent to levy a street lighting and public safety fee in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2003. The fees are part of the city's efforts to derive revenue from the city properties that are tax exempt. Because nearly all the growth in revenues from increased property values go into the redevelopment trust fund, the city is squeezed when it comes time to pay for such things as raises for firefighters.

There will be a series of public hearings before any final decision is made on the fees. Already, a group of vocal city residents has voiced its opposition to them.

In the coming year, Mayor Frank Parker wants to keep up the momentum in redevelopment efforts in the neighborhoods. "We need to continue that focus," he said.

Neighborhood improvement took off quickly last year with the help of $1,000 and $5,000 grants the city offered to encourage residents to fix up their homes. The city doled out $60,000 worth of grants to residents, who, in response, spent $1.4-million of their own money making improvements.

In June, the city plans to start building a "demonstration" home on a city-owned lot at 6021 Missouri Ave. The home will cost about $80,000 to build, and the city will sell it to recoup construction costs.

The purpose of the project is to demonstrate to residents and developers what kind of home can be built downtown. City staffers plan to make designs for three home models available to residents and developers.

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