With decision time looming on the redevelopment and proposed expansion of the Hacienda Hotel, New Port Richey City Council members met Tuesday to discuss lingering concerns.
These votes include deciding whether to sign a nonbinding agreement that outlines the terms and conditions the city and developer would like to see in a legally binding contract to convert the property into a modern boutique hotel.
The council has also been asked to vote March 6 on whether to pass a resolution that expresses consent to the westward expansion of the Hacienda and the removal and relocation of the Sims Park “Super Playground,” which sits in the proposed path of the expansion. The resolution also agrees to relocation of the public restrooms that sit near the playground.
The city has been negotiating with Community Development Partners to try and redevelop the Hacienda, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The term agreement the city might sign off on proposes expanding the Hacienda Hotel westward to up the building’s room count from 55 to 93 and accommodate amenities. Negotiators have envisioned a deal to be a public-private partnership.
Work could begin in January 2014, a year and a half after the city and developer reach a legally binding development contract in July.
Tuesday’s meeting was a work session to discuss the property’s redevelopment and remaining concerns. Votes are not taken during a work session.
Greg Smith, who has lived in the city for decades, was one of a few residents of the city or elsewhere who panned the proposed expansion Tuesday night.
He was instead in favor of restoring the building back to a better condition and tapping locals to do so.
“I think many times we overlook the strength of the community,” he told the council. “…Let’s build it back to where it used to be.”
Joseph Margetanski, a city resident, echoed support of simply renovating the Hacienda for now. He clarified afterward that he is concerned about the condition the Hacienda is in and could be in by the time redevelopment of the building starts.
“I think we’re racing against the clock,” he told the council.
Andy Ham, vice president of development for Community Development Partners, and Tom Kohler, an Orlando-based consultant who has been advising the city on redevelopment issues, were at the meeting. They said the expansion is needed to make the redevelopment project economically viable.
“The ability to add on rooms actually pays for the ability to save the building,” Kohler said.
Renovations are expensive he said, and the developers have to account for things like expanding rooms to add bathrooms, electrical wiring and ADA compliance.
Ham said that the industry standard for a feasible hotel has at least 80 rooms.
“We’re not interested in doing an inn,” he said. “…We’re more interested in a hotel, especially a historic hotel, that will draw the group travel and the leisure travel.”
Councilwoman Ginny Miller said that given the economics, the city needed a partner to complete work on the building. Simply renovating the Hacienda alone “is really not an option at this point for the (Community Redevelopment Agency,) and probably not into the near future.”
Councilmember Bob Langford said that if you went into the Hacienda and looked at the size of the current rooms, “you would know immediately that it would not serve as a modern day hotel. …It wouldn’t be profitable.”
City council members sought clarification on a part of the term agreement that outlines ownership. It proposes leasing the building to the developer for five years and then deeding it to the developer with conditions, said James Lang, an attorney with the law firm that provides legal counsel to the city .
The developer is attempting to get historic tax credits and the agreement needs to meet certain obligations to qualify for them, he said. That section will be further worked out in development agreement negotiations, he said.
Two points of concern about the expansion that have been repeated by critics are are the removal of the playground, which is constructed from pressure-treated wood, and the questions on whether there are restrictions on how the land west of the Hacienda can be development.
City officials have cited concerns that the current playground has safety issues. Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe asked whether there were other places in Sims Park “where a really super playground can be built.”
The city is seeking a master plan and grants to relocate the playground, as well as nearby bathrooms, elsewhere in Sims Park, said development director Lisa Fierce. The playground may not be the same size as the current one and may be modernized, she added.
Legal review into the presence of titles and easements of the land where the expansion is to encroach on is continuing.
A proposed northward expansion of the Hacienda that would have encroached into a northern section of Sims Park was effectively taken off the table. The city learned in summer that the expansion might put the project in conflict with a city ordinance that restricts how that section of park can be used.
So negotiators looked at a westward expansion into a different section of Sims Park.
City officials do not believe that the westward expansion would put the project in conflict with the same ordinance that took the northern expansion off the table.
“We have examined Ordinance 1, and Ordinance 1 should not impact this western portion,” Lang said.
Still, a surveyor is assessing the land to determine the boundary of the ordinance that precluded northward expnsion to ensure the westward expansion does not encroach on it.
Mayor Bob Consalvo said he had no doubt that the Hacienda's expansion into Sims Park could be done "nicely," although he still has concerns about replacuing the playground and restrooms. Right now, the Hacienda isn't very pleasant to look at, he said. He showed those gathered a pieceof art that shows how the Hacienda could look when the project is complete.
"It's a functional, working facility that's bringing people back in here. How can you not want to do this?"
For more on the background of the Hacienda Hotel and its redevelopment, as well as resident opinions on it, read some of Patch's previous articles.