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Blight label called route to renewal

Declaring the entire city blighted opens doors for programs to improve it, New Port Richey officials conclude.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Before residents can see improved streets, landscapes, better sewers and incentives to lure new businesses and homes, they may have to see it declared "blighted."

Next week, the City Council will consider making that designation so that it can find ways to improve the city without raising taxes. Assistant City Manager Gerald Paradise says he thinks that if they do, "in a period of five years, the public could see changes in the basic fabric of the city's commercial and residential properties."

Paradise on Tuesday showed the Community Redevelopment Agency board a study demonstrating that blight exists in the city.

Paradise presented a sample of 159 commercial and residential properties that are physically blighted, or whose values have diminished substantially over the past eight years. Blighted properties are unsafe, not clean or deteriorating. But under state statutes they also have faulty lot layout and inadequate parking.

The redevelopment board, which is composed of City Council members, voted to recommend that the council designate the entire city blighted. The current blighted area includes the downtown area bound by U.S. 19, Madison, Orange Lake Road and Nebraska Avenue. The council is set to discuss the issue in its Dec. 16 meeting.

Once the new blighted area is designated, the city can apply for financing tools such as revenue bonds, grants and tax-increment financing that would help pay for improving them.

The city has used tax increment financing program since 1989. Under such a program, property values in the blighted area are assessed. That assessment is used as a base, and as the property values rise within that area, the extra tax money that the county and city collect are used to pay for improvements in that zone.

In order for those assessments to rise initially, cities generally make some public improvements that would spur investment by private property owners. That private investment would in turn cause the property values to continue to rise.

The value of property in New Port Richey is rising about 3 percent annually, below the county's 5 percent to 8 percent increases, Paradise said.

If the council votes for the changes next week, then the city will kick off the new redevelopment plan, which Paradise hopes to complete in the next four months. The city must complete it by July to use the current tax year as a base assessment for the TIF.

When these changes happen will depend on how fast the property values rise and how many projects there are to be done, he added.

In other news, a chiropractor and a building contractor have made competing offers for the city-owned building at 6145 Grand Blvd. that currently houses the Shuffleboard and Tourist Club.

Last year, the city declared the property surplus in order to sell it. Dr. Laura Kincead wants to use the property for offices; Bruce L. Frey, president of Johnson-Frey-Turzak Group Inc., wants to develop specialty retail space there and put offices in the back.

Both have offered $180,000 for the property, equal to its assessed value. In a work session Tuesday, council members expressed stressed their desires to cultivate retail development downtown, and recommended that the offers be reconsidered by the council in February, to allow time for those parties and anyone else who is interested to resubmit offers.

Also, Community Hospital of New Port Richey hopes to put a 120-space parking lot on city-owned land at Marine Parkway and Grand Boulevard where the Red Apple School currently operates.

The school, which teaches independent living skills to mentally challenged adults, uses the property for free. The city has declared the property surplus. The city and the hospital are negotiating to buy the property, which is assessed at $122,265.

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