WESLEY CHAPEL — Blue Marble founder James Talton said he expects to bring a contract for a $34 million baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch to the Pasco Board of County Commissioners by the end of the year.
As soon as he has a signed contract, Talton said he will reach out to Major League Baseball teams in an effort to lure a spring training facility to the Pasco site.
“We’re going to have nine major league-size fields, including the stadium,” Talton said. “I’ve had preliminary discussions, but we can’t really recruit them until we have a contract executed. As soon as I have that in hand, I can assure you there are three teams I will approach.”
Commissioners voted back in March to negotiate with Blue Marble after failing to reach an agreement last year with the Porter family, the owners and developers of Wiregrass Ranch. Negotiations didn’t really begin in earnest until mid-July, after commissioners promoted Michele Baker to succeed retiring County Administrator John Gallagher.
“Michele’s been great,” Talton said. “I know when I left our last meeting I felt very good. I feel like we’re on the same page.”
Baker said the final version of the contract should be ready in time for a Dec. 10 commission workshop. She emphasized that the “ink’s not dry” on the contract. “I think it’s going very well, but all the details aren’t figured out yet,” she said.
Talton said there has been tremendous give and take on both sides, but the basic math hasn’t changed. Blue Marble would put up the bulk of the funding — $23 million. Pasco County would contribute $11 million, including $9 million from tourist development funds.
Talton said he asked Baker to reduce Blue Marble’s revenue-sharing obligation from 6-percent to 2-percent gross revenues since the company would also be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in tourist taxes through its on-site dormitory accommodations and local sales taxes.
In addition, Talton agreed to Baker’s request that they build the four-story dormitory to meet wind load requirements so it could serve as a hurricane shelter.
Baker said she hasn’t agreed to the 2-percent revenue sharing yet. “We are still in negotiations,” she said.
Pasco commissioners had initially allocated $14 million for a youth sports complex at Wiregrass, but Blue Marble’s proposal did not seek the full amount, which allowed the county to spend a portion of those funds to expand the nearby Wesley Chapel District Park.
Talton said Blue Marble has revised its site plan after the size of the park was scaled down to about 120 acres. The company had to reduce the number of fields from 21 to 19, including the stadium. Space restrictions also forced them to add a parking deck and multi-level dormitories to house visiting athletes.
The parking deck would have retail shops, concessions and training facilities — including batting cages — on the ground level, Talton said. The dorms would feature a full-service restaurant and sports bar for spectators and a cafeteria for visiting athletes. Preliminary designs even call for practice fields on the roof.
Talton is putting the final touches on a 3-D animation of the complex, and he commissioned a market study and economic impact analysis — at Baker’s request. If the complex operates at full capacity, he projects it would generate more than $13 million a year in gross revenues and draw enough tourists to fill 68,000 hotel room nights.
“These are very conservative projections,” he said. “Our facility is unique; nothing like it exists. The closest comparison is at Cooperstown (N.Y.). We know our product is superior to theirs, and they’re booked solid for 13 weeks every summer. We can operate year-round.”