City aims to improve park, boost usage
As seen in the Tampa Bay Online
By CARL ORTH | The Suncoast News
PORT RICHEY — The most common question many residents ask about Port Richey Waterfront Park remains “Where is it?”
Though the park opened in June 1997, most people do not realize the city’s largest park lies along Old Post Road, less than a block north of Grand Boulevard.
The tranquil area provides a strong contrast to nearby traffic along U.S. 19.
Special events help showcase the seldom-used park. In 2011, the park served as the backdrop for the city’s fireworks on July 4. The city recently gave a grant to Celebrate Port Richey to help the group put on another fireworks display this year on the Fourth of July.
Visitors will discover a playground, pier, walking trail, picnic tables, a pavilion, restrooms, kayak launch and other limited facilities at the site with about 13.5 acres.
City officials want to improve amenities to draw more visitors to the park.
While ideas to enhance the park are plentiful, money is not.
So the city recently hired the Wade Trim civil engineering and planning firm to develop a master plan. The Port Richey Community Redevelopment Agency approved the contract for $27,970, according to City Manager Tom O’Neill.
Wade Trim consultants will set up public meetings to gain ideas from residents on what they would like to see added to the park.
The contract gives the company five months to deliver a master plan. The document will map out phases of improvements spread over several years as money becomes available.
O’Neill thinks the waterfront area could blossom into a destination point for residents and tourists.
West Pasco Chamber of Commerce President Joe Alpine has said Waterfront Park could be turned into something like John’s Pass, the quaint fishing village near St. Petersburg and Pinellas County’s top tourist attraction.
Such improvements, however, don’t come about overnight, O’Neill said.
Recent ideas have included a universally accessible playground, relocation of the bathrooms, upgrades to the existing pavilion, rebuilding boardwalks and additional parking.
Parking remains limited, council members have said. The park can handle some 30 to 40 vehicles, city staff members report.
About a year ago, officials were keen about the universally accessible playground. Their enthusiasm cooled when estimates came in as high as $200,000 to install such a facility.
Because of the cash crunch in city budgets, leaders realized a piecemeal approach for park upgrades would not work well. They began searching for bidders to come up with a long-range plan.
Councilman Terrence Rowe said last year that he would like to see weekly events held at the park, though that might not be practical at this time.
If money were no object, Port Richey could follow the example of Haines City, east of Lakeland in Polk County, council members have said. Lake Eva Park in Haines City features a banquet hall, band shell, playgrounds, bicycle trails, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts and more.