Efforts to develop downtown New Port Richey have been underway for decades but there has been little to show for the effort and a change is needed, some city officials say. Possible options include having the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce join forces with the New Port Richey Main Street or turning over the job of promoting downtown to a locally based firm, Rock the Boat Productions.

NEW PORT RICHEY — New Port Richey Main Street has existed in various forms and fashions for more than 30 years. The downtown boosting program’s lease on life, however, may be on the verge of expiring.

City Council held a work session Jan. 2 and discussed the future of the program. For about 90 minutes, hearing from multiple business owners, community leaders and residents throughout.

While no official action can be taken during work sessions, the general consensus is to shift away from the Main Street Program and refocus efforts with the support of local business owners. An impetus for the work session was the Main Street program’s prolonged inactivity, City Manager Debbie Manns said.

“In the current scenario with the city of New Port Richey we’re lacking in both volunteers and staff,” she said, noting the lack of board member participation. “And as a result of that the program has gone dormant.”

The city was in an agreement with the Main Street Program until last September to provide $15,000 to support its administration. Because of the program’s inability to meet performance objectives, such as conducting meetings, Manns said quarterly payments haven’t been made by the city since June 2018.

The New Port Richey Main Street Program, like similar Main Street programs throughout the state, exists to promote downtown areas and support and attract business and commerce in a variety of ways. The group’s helped organize larger special events like KiaFest Main Street Blast and the Cotee River Seafest.

While Main Street received praise for its efforts over the years from some business owners and councilmembers, a desire for change ruled the evening.

Two primary alternatives were proposed during the work session. One involved Main Street and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce joining forces.

“The program needs a shot in the arm and I think the enthusiasm of our business community is ripe to have a great, strong program,” said West Pasco Chamber of Commerce President Liz Juffin. “We’d like to help embrace that.”

The other alternative involved moving away from the Main Street format and exploring options with Rock the Boat Productions, a New Port Richey business.

“Our goal is to create a downtown alliance within a year that will be guided by a strong, proactive board made up of individuals that have a stake in the redevelopment of our downtown district, including residents and organizations,” said Kira Atkinson a partner with Rock the Boat Productions, along with her sister, Kacey, and Lia Gallegos.

No consensus opinion was formed among council members on Jan. 2, but recent efforts from Rock the Boat Productions and some positive comments from other business owners in attendance seemed to spark interest.

Mayor Rob Marlowe mentioned that a discussion on downtown events was coming Jan. 15.

“I think we need something new, fresh, different – people that are very enthusiastic about the city and want to see things change,” said Councilman Matt Murphy. “I’d love to see a hybrid of some kind between the chamber and Rock the Boat.”

Marlowe said he didn’t know what Rock the Boat would do different from Main Street but liked its initiative in approaching the city without being asked. “That impresses me,” he said.

Councilman Jeff Starkey put his support behind Rock the Boat Productions, stating that he doesn’t believe the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Program fit well. He added that Main Street is basically nonexistent by its own doing.

“To attract the residents that we want living here … I say we keep doing the things that we’re doing together in a positive fashion,” Starkey said. “Give (Rock the Boat Productions) a shot and give them some funding and see what happens and we’ll go from there.”