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New Port Richey ribbon-cutting get mixed support

By Robert Napper, Times Correspondent
Published: January 3, 2018

NEW PORT RICHEY ó As the city prepares to unveil $1.8 million in improvements to its Recreation and Aquatic Center, one City Council member who voted against the funding package doesnít plan to attend the ribbon-cutting celebration next month.

New Port Richey City Manager Debbie Manns informed the City Council in her weekly report that a tentative date of Feb. 17 was set for the event at the facility located at 6630 Van Buren St.

It will be a year since the council voted 3-2 to move the facilityís fitness room from the back of the center to the front, to turn the old fitness room into an activity area, to build a child care center and to build another activity room adjacent to the pool deck. The city also will install a new key card system for after-hours access and add golf cart charging stations.

The ribbon cutting is an event that city leaders view differently. City Council member Chopper Davis argued that center improvements could have been done for $300,000, with the rest spent on fixing city roads.

Davis does not believe the improvements will boost center memberships, which was one of the projectís selling points. The facility already was among the best in Florida, he said, especially for a city the size of New Port Richey.

"I didnít vote for it, so Iím not supporting it. I think if you follow membership in the next few months, itís not going to change very much," Davis said.

Council member Bill Phillips also voted against the funding package, saying the upgrades could have been done for $1 million. He said he will go to the ribbon cutting because itís a "good thing from a community perspective."

"I do think the improvements are going to be such a good thing overall for the facility," Phillips said.

Mayor Rob Marlowe voted for the project Ė along with Council member Judy DeBella Thomas and Deputy Mayor Jeff Starkey Ė and cannot wait for the ribbon cutting.

"You better believe it," he said when asked if he would attend.

Center improvements are an extension of improvements the city made to Sims Park in 2016 for $3 million, he said. Many questioned how much that project cost, according to Marlowe, but now the once "deserted park" is teeming with families every day.

The city has spent no money on the recreation center since building it in 2007 for $14 million, the mayor said.

"If you spread it out over the 10 years the city did nothing to the facility, itís not that much money," he said. "I think itís money well spent.

"Itís all part of making New Port Richey the sort of place you want to live."