The attempt to redevelop the Hacienda Hotel in downtown New Port Richey has hit a new roadblock.
Legal review has found that a proposed westward expansion of the property into Sims Park could run afoul of restrictions on how that section of the park can be developed or used.
"We have found that we can't go forward, and we have to look at other options,” said City Manager John Schneiger at a council meeting Tuesday.
Community Development Partners, the Georgia-based company with which New Port Richey has been discussing the Hacienda’s redevelopment for years, has been informed of the problem.
The City Council “tabled” a vote Tuesday
The council consented to not vote Tuesday and delay any other decisions until it hears back from the developer on what it wants to do now.
Over the past couple weeks, Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe had raised concerns about the possibility of restrictions on how the western parcel of Sims Park could be used. He had pushed for the city to assess whether the project could go west before the council gave it the green light.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” he said of the recent news.
In 2003, the city Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to purchase the Hacienda. The Hacienda had opened as a hotel in 1927, but was being used only as an assisted living facility at the time of the city's purchase of the building. The building has sat vacant since 2006.
The city has been talking to Community Development Partners about the redevelopment for years, entering a new round of negotiations in October.
Community Development Partners had proposed renovating the Hacienda Hotel and expanding it to up the property’s room count from 55 to 93.
Andy Ham, vice president of development with CDP, and a consultant advising the city on economic development issues has said in the past the expansion was needed to make the project economically viable.
A proposed northward expansion had already been taken off the table by the city. It had learned that the northward expansion would encroach into a section of Sims Park and could risk putting the project in conflict with an ordinance restricting what can be built in that section.
City officials did not believe that the proposed westward expansion would put the project in conflict with the same ordinance that took the northern expansion off the table. However, the city had asked its attorneys to review the parcels for titles and easements on the property,
Assistant city attorney Jim Lang told the city council Tuesday that there are two substantial restrictions on the land the westward expansion would be built on.
One is a 1963 warranty deed from Reginald and Pauline Sims that requires the land be used for public park purposes only and was deeded to become "an adjunct to and part of Sims Park... and for no other purpose."
Lifting the warranty deed restriction could be a costly process that might not be successful, Lang said.
The other restriction is a 1997 limited use notice that says the land in question was "acquired" or "developed" with assistance from the National Park Service and that the parcel “may not be converted to other than public use (whether by transfer, sale or any other manner.)” The city would need the Secretary of the Interior’s blessing to lift this requirement.
Schneiger said city staff talked to Ham and agreed that the cost of lifting the restrictions and “uncertainty of the outcome” of an attempt to do so made the westward expansion a no-go.
Ham pitched the idea that a free-standing building could be constructed over the Gloria Swanson parking lot east of Sims Park on Bank Street with added height to provide the expansion. That would require the old post office building adjacent to the parking lot be razed to create parking. Ham also raised the idea of traffic calming measures on Bank Street.
Schneiger said Ham told him that CDP would get back to the city “in a day or two” on whether that expansion would be acceptable.
“If this turns out to not be feasible, we’ve probably run the course with CDP,” Schneiger said.
City officials have been pushing for redevelopment and cited worries that the Hacienda Hotel is deteriorating.
Marlowe said that he thought that the “best idea” was still to convert the Hacienda into a hotel. But there are other options that could be looked at, such as tapping it for a restaurant or ecotourism use. Something needs to be done to stabilize the building, even if it's temporarily renting it out, Marlowe said. It would be a crime if the property was razed, he said.
If the city moves forward with looking at the Gloria Swanson Parking lot as a viable option for expansion, “the very next thing we’re going to do is the search” for restrictions, Schneiger said.