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City has a vision for hotel

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The city is exploring acquiring the 74-year-old Hacienda Hotel, and integrating the property into its downtown redevelopment efforts.

For 15 years, the hotel has housed the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, a non-profit agency which operates the 75-bed home for senior citizens with mental disabilities. The hotel once catered to celebrities and is listed on the National Historic Register.

Assistant city manager Gerald Paradise envisions some mix of retail, restaurant and public-meeting use for the hotel. He proposed applying for state grants to help restore the property. The county appraiser has valued the property at about $800,000 but the city is now having an independent appraisal done.

Seven months ago, when the hotel was applying for property alterations, city staff realized that its back parking lot was on the city's park property, which is prohibited by city ordinances, according to Paradise.

The city notified the agency that it would have to stop using it. Paradise said that if the agency chooses to sell, the city intends to help it relocate. He said the city would have ordered the agency to get part of its parking lot off the city park property regardless of whether it was interested in acquiring the property. "We weren't in an adverse mode," Paradise said.

Paradise also said police frequently get complaints that people staying at the Hacienda are creating disturbances downtown. New Port Richey Police said such calls come in once or twice a week.

Janice McDonald, executive vice president of Clearwater-based Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, said the agency can continue to operate without the city-owned property, but she's open to the idea of relocating, if it's possible without losing money or space. She said she was miffed that the situation is only coming to light now.

"We haven't had a problem with parking for 15 years," McDonald said, adding that she also hasn't heard about complaints about residents.

"I don't know why the city wouldn't get ahold of us for that if they're willing to get ahold of us to tell us they want the building," Mc Donald said.

The Hacienda was part of a group of proposals Paradise presented to the City Council Tuesday evening after it approved an expanded Community Redevelopment Area.

By doing that, the city now qualifies for a variety of financing programs, including tax increment financing, or TIF. Under TIF, property values in the city were evaluated at $450-million. That evaluation is used as a base and as the property values rise within the city as a result of redevelopment, the the extra tax money that the county and city collect are used to pay for improvements.

Though resident taxes don't go up, the existing taxes that are paid on the incremental value the land has increased are put into a Redevelopment Trust Fund. The city estimates that the fund will have $131,100 in the first year, and $1-million by the fiscal 2005 year.

Paradise outlined some grants the city could qualify for with the expanded CRA, and got an okay from the council to apply for those grants. Other potential projects involve creating a parking deck downtown, and the beautification efforts for U.S. 19.

Though council members said that they were excited about the prospects, they stressed that they don't want to stray from using this CRA as a way to improve the neighborhoods.

- Jennifer Goldblatt covers the city of New Port Richey. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229.

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