Baseball complex meeting went well, developer says
WESLEY CHAPEL - The former hotel developer who wants to build a 20-field baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch said his first meeting with County Administrator John Gallagher and top staff went extremely well. "They love the idea," Blue Marble Strategic President James Talton said. "They completely understand the concept we were going after to put them on the map." County commissioners unanimously approved Blue Marble's bid over the one submitted by the Porter family, the owners and developers of Wiregrass Ranch who are donating 220 acres for the sports park. The Porters walked away from negotiations last year after failing to reach an operating agreement for the complex. Talton and his partner, Ramon Pichardo, met Monday with Gallagher, Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker, tourism director Eric Keaton, purchasing director Scott Stromer and Assistant County Attorney Jane Fagin, who is preparing the contract for the Porter land donation.Talton said the meeting was friendly and cooperative. He said Gallagher requested a revised term-sheet within two weeks. "They accepted 90 percent of everything," Talton said. "If we fix our financing, this thing will go forward." But the financing is no small detail. Blue Marble proposed forging a public-private partnership with Pasco County to build 20 fields plus a 5,000-seat stadium. The complex also would have concessions, a park with hiking trails and an athletes village. The price: $34 million. The park would be privately financed, with a $6 million contribution from the county. "We have a lot of options, and most of them are nontraditional," Talton said. "We don't plan to go to the bank and borrow $34 million." He said the staff had "no issue whatsoever" with the idea of dormitory-style housing for the athletes at the park. The major sticking point could be Blue Marble's request that the county provide a guarantee for its third-party financing. In previous negotiations, Gallagher said he didn't want the county left holding the bag if the company defaults. "That was the No. 1 issue on both sides," Talton said. "We were coming at it from the perspective that we're leaving $8 million in the kitty for them, so in exchange we wanted a guarantee." He said county officials discussed making a larger cash contribution upfront — it has $14 million available — in lieu of signing a loan guarantee. Gallagher said he plans to discuss the plan in detail Tuesday with county commissioners — after he gets the revised term-sheet from Blue Marble.
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