Spotlight on downtown New Port Richey, West Pasco

New Port Richey Main Street Inc. is hosting the annual Preservation on Main Street Conference this week from July 21-24. The multi-day event was supposed to take place last year but was pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Downtown New Port Richey’s upward trajectory in terms of redevelopment, business growth and overall revitalization has been well-documented at the local level in recent years.

This week, at locations both along Main Street and throughout West Pasco, a diverse cross-section of city organizers, officials and business leaders will get to spotlight what’s new, what’s historic and everything in between during the Preservation on Main Street Conference from July 21-24.

“This is an incredible feather in the cap of the entire Main Street board,” said New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe, referencing the conference host organization, New Port Richey Main Street Inc. “(The state does) this once a year and for New Port Richey Main Street to have snagged this conference is amazing.”

NPR Main Street is one of 40 Main Street communities throughout Florida that is also accredited by the national Main Street America organization. Florida Main Street, the statewide program administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, along with the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, originally awarded NPR Main Street the opportunity to host the conference last summer. The COVID-19 pandemic curbed that event, but NPR Main Street and its new executive director were prepared to organize and orchestrate version 2021 on short notice.

“New Port Richey has been growing so much and I think that’s why the state Main Street along with the Florida Trust chose our city,” said NPR Main Street Executive Director Melissa Smith, who took over in early June. “We’re trying to get people to realize how different New Port Richey is right now. A few years back it was a bit of a ghost town, but now it’s really starting to thrive with all the different businesses we have.”

While the conference’s advertised schedule is from Wednesday to Saturday, early arrivers were invited to take part in a couple of Tuesday evening events downtown that included a networking reception at Cotee River Brewing Company and a guided ghost tour that hit historic locations.

Conference organizers expect 250-300 participants descending upon New Port Richey and have created a wide and diverse program of activities and events that highlight the Main Street program, preservation and the local community.

“We’ll be showcasing our city the whole time they’re here,” Marlowe said. “I’m very excited about it and I’m tickled to death that the Main Street folks were able to get it.”

Visitors can hear all about the restoration process of New Port Richey’s historic Hacienda Hotel from owner Jim Gunderson, learn how to become energy efficient in historic districts from representatives with Orlando-based preservation contractor Austin Historical, and get an inside look at the recovery process of panhandle communities affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

That’s all taking place Wednesday and well before the evening welcoming reception being held on the premises of the soon-to-be-reopened Hacienda Hotel.

The conference’s full, Wednesday-to-Saturday schedule — descriptions included — spans 15 typed pages.

To accommodate all the activities, discussions and presentations, many of which overlap, organizers are utilizing a variety of settings, not all of which are downtown. Many of the daytime presentations will take place within the Harry Schwettman Education Center, allowing guests to be under the same roof while in different classrooms. The Suncoast Richey Theater, Peace Hall, the West Pasco Historical Society Museum and Library and various downtown businesses will function as gathering spots, as well.

Local organizers also intend to accentuate the area’s natural beauty throughout the week. “We have a beautiful area here that I don’t think some people have seen completely,” Smith said, specifying the Pithlachscotee River that cuts through downtown and empties into the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

“I think this is going to open a lot of people’s eyes to make us a destination they are going to want to come to.”

Highlighting aquatic resources will be guided tours taken via kayak or pontoon boat, as well as more unconventional crafts provided by Lucky Booty Cycleboats. Some of these trip options either start from or end up in areas outside New Port Richey, such as Anclote Key Preserve State Park or the Port Richey waterfront district, now known as Cotee River Landing.

An abundance of coastal options within a short distance of downtown New Port Richey is an asset that further boosts the area’s entire profile, Marlowe said.

“We are the downtown for all of West Pasco, but we don’t have a waterfront,” Marlowe said. “Port Richey has a waterfront, so if you put together Port Richey with their waterfront and us with our historic downtown, you’ve got the whole package.”