NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners terminated their contract with retired baseball star Gary Sheffield and his business partner and will seek new bids in 2015 to develop a multimillion dollar sports park in Wiregrass Ranch.
“I think we all agree this is not a failure but an opportunity to more forward,” Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. “We’ve got a great asset that’s not going anywhere.”
The unanimous decision came after Pasco Sports founder James Talton and Sheffield failed to raise the private money needed to pay for the design and permitting of their proposed $34 million baseball complex.
It also followed a lengthy discussion with Dev Pathik, the county’s sports facility adviser, who suggested the county might be better off looking for a new partner rather than negotiating a new deal with Talton and Sheffield.
Sheffield told the Tribune he could have put up the $3 million by the Dec. 5 deadline, but his attorneys advised him to let the contract terminate. He and Talton are still confident they can pull together a new deal — one that’s fully funded by private investors — but now they have to persuade the commissioners to give them another chance after two years with little to show for their efforts.
“I have our response to the previous (request for proposals), so I guess we can just modify what we did before,” Talton said. “The only difference would be that this time we’d try to have the attorneys who represent the lenders negotiate the agreement, so there’s no wait.”
But Pathik said Talton’s difficulty raising the $23 million had less to do with the terms of the first contract than with his lack of experience in the industry. “In Talton’s case, he didn’t have a proven track record,” Pathik said. “That was the main challenge. It’s not to say he couldn’t have been successful.”
He said the commissioners weren’t wrong to enter into the first contract. “Now you have an opportunity to look at this in a fresh way,” he said.
He also questioned several aspects of their concept — especially their plan to build onsite dormitories for up to 100 teams. “I don’t think it’s in the county’s best interest to have a site focused on dorms,” Pathik said. “When it’s dorms, it’s a cruise ship – you’ve got a captive audience.”
J.D. and Bill Porter, whose family donated the 100-acre park site, said terminating the contract was the right move. They know first hand how difficult it would be to finance such a venture, since they had initially proposed to develop a youth sports complex on the same property. They ended up walking away from a deal with the county and ended up donating the land instead.
“This is exactly what needs to happen,” Bill Porter said. “I think it’s going to get done much more quickly now.”
J.D. Porter said the family chose the location, just north of the Shops at Wiregrass, to generate economic development around the site. “We’ve got hotels under contract now without it even being built,” he said. “Right now you’ve got $10 million committed for a performing arts center. We’re looking to co-locate that within walking distance of the park.”