For hotel expansion, a step in right direction

Published May 10, 2007

A change in direction could provide a much-needed change in momentum for renovating a New Port Richey landmark.

After a couple of false starts, a public-private venture to turn the former Hacienda Hotel into a downtown attraction shows promise by seeking to expand east away from Sims Park.

It is a much more palatable idea than earlier proposals to expand the hotel west or north, which would have required knocking down a dozen trees, displacing a popular community playground or encroaching into the grassy circle in front of the park's amphitheater.

Community Development Partners of Georgia and Three Oaks Hospitality of Boca Raton are seeking to redevelop the city-owned building into an upscale hotel and spa with a restaurant and meeting space. To do so, they are seeking to add approximately 40 rooms to the 55-room hotel to recoup the multimillion-dollar renovation costs and to make the project financially viable.

Moving the annex to the east requires closing part of Bank Street, which runs along the park from Main Street to Orange Lake.

The loss of vehicle traffic along that portion of the business district, however, would be offset by the long-term benefits of pedestrian traffic from the hotel guests.

The city acquired the Hacienda three years ago for $2.2-million. The former hotel was built in 1927 when New Port Richey had ambitions to be the Hollywood of the South. By the mid 1980s, its mission turned to housing for the mentally ill until the city acquired it as part of an ambitious but slow-to-materialize downtown redevelopment.

Its proximity to the park and Pithlachascotee River makes it a prime site for a downtown destination. There are plenty of details to work out, including more firm construction estimates, a formal contract between the city and the developers and appeasing concerns about the hotel's parking taking away a carnival site for the annual Chasco Fiesta carnival.

Still, the enthusiasm among City Council members is understandable. A historic hotel luring guests downtown while preserving the integrity of Sims Park would be a substantial component to a redevelopment program still looking for its first big success.