NEW PORT RICHEY — The organization’s seen better days but New Port Richey Main Street isn’t going anywhere just yet.
The city’s been part of the Florida Main Street program for almost three decades, but the group’s effectiveness and influence fell off steadily over the last five to 10 years.
As downtown continues to enjoy its recent resurgence, there are still plenty of local business owners, City Council members and city staff members not willing to give up on what the Main Street program can offer. On May 21, City Council sat down with some of New Port Richey Main Street’s restructured board of directors for a work session to discuss the organization’s vision and relationship with the city.
The session was just an information-gathering opportunity, but optimism ruled the evening.
Liz Misemer, New Port Richey Main Street’s new executive director, opened the meeting by introducing the group’s 2019-2020 board and outlining how Main Street is reorganizing, restructuring and refocusing. Part of that process will involve actively connecting with downtown merchants and community groups and reporting to City Council quarterly and improving transparency.
“The board is here this evening to present themselves to you for purposes of reestablishing a memorandum of understanding with the group as it relates to the operation of the program,” City Manager Debbie Manns said. The members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency know the history of the program but there may be some people in attendance or at home that aren’t aware of the fact that the program did for a period of time lapse in operation, about a year, Manns noted.
“But they have re-energized themselves in a really positive fashion and added additional members as well,” Manns said of the Main Street board.
The two major, annual events New Port Richey Main Street organizes are the Cotee River Seafest and KIAFest Main Street Blast. Following Misemer’s delivery of Main Street’s organizational outline, Mayor Rob Marlowe said that he’s encouraged to see a broader focus that deviates from events.
“It was pretty disappointing when the program flamed out and it got mono-focused on just the big events in the park,” Marlowe said, referring to Sims Park. “I understand the financial reasons for wanting to do that, but it really ignored all the other parts.”
One such new idea is the creation of Mornings on Main. Downtown businesses will rotate hosting the networking events on either the second or third Tuesday of each month.
“Those are the sort of programs that as a downtown business owner I think are important,” Marlowe said. “That is going to be what helps this organization reconnect with the downtown merchants.”
When asked by Councilman Jeff Starkey why it’s important to get Main Street back up and running, attending board members frequently cited tapping into the energy and excitement pulsing throughout town and being an entity that helps retain that positivity.
“We’ve got some new energy and great faces on the board, so I’m excited to see what can happen with this group moving forward,” said Main Street President Bob Smallwood.
“This is my home town,” Misemer said. “I truly love the city and I love the direction it’s headed. It’s always been important to me, I’ve always wanted to be active.”
Councilman Chopper Davis said he’s encouraged to see Main Street being re-created.
“The town never accepted the Main Street program and it struggled for years and years and years,” Davis said. “I’m just really glad to see this group here come with the energy it originally had back in 1990 or somewhere in that area.”
As the city and the Main Street board work upon a memorandum of understanding, Manns and Councilman Peter Altman agreed that the partnership between the two entities is paramount to success. Manns said she expects to present the memorandum to City Council at its June 4 meeting.
“The terms of the MOU would require that meetings occur, members attend, discussion occurs and those communications would be forwarded to the city quarterly,” Manns said. “It would include committee structures of economic vitality, design, promotion and organization.”
“The most critical thing I think is that we all recognize the partnership aspect of how we have to make this happen,” Altman said.