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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Pasco leaders to take another look at building sports complex

Pasco County commissioners plan to meet with local tourism officials next month to decide whether to keep pitching the idea of building a mega sports venue.

The hitch, said Pasco tourism manager Ed Caum, is finding a private partner who wants to play ball with Pasco County.

“I tell people I’ve been stood up at the altar four times now,” said Caum, referring to a series of partnership agreements that haven’t panned out.

Since 2001, the Pasco County Commission has made multiple attempts to form a public-private partnership to build a tournament-quality sports complex using tourist development tax money.

Pasco in 1999 began levying a 2 percent tax on hotels, motels, campgrounds and other lodging, collecting about $680,000 a year to build a multi-sports complex to attract amateur and professional sports events that would pull in tourists from around the country.

In 2013, the county commission teamed with the Porter family, developer of Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel, to build a sports complex for youth baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse leagues on 80 acres the Porters donated to the county. But at the last minute the parties were unable to come to terms on an operation and maintenance agreement.

Most recently, Pasco County tried to negotiate an agreement with Pasco Sports and its part-owner, former Major League Baseball player and Tampa native Gary Sheffield, to build a $34 million baseball complex on the Wiregrass property. But that deal fell through in December when Pasco Sports failed to come up with financing.

Despite the failed attempts, a national sports consultant told commissioners Tuesday that there still is a chance Pasco can score big in the field of amateur and professional sports events.

In March the county hired the Johnson Consulting of Chicago to do a feasibility study to determine, once and for all, if Pasco can host a successful sports venue.

In his presentation before the county commission, the firm’s president, Charlie Johnson, was optimistic.

He advised the county to consider building an indoor baseball and soccer facility that can be used year-round and won’t be affected by inclement weather. He also suggested the county include a cultural and performing arts component in the complex.

“You can use that 80 acres to build something attractive and bold; something that will really attract tourists to the area,” Johnson told commissioners.

Johnson said he looked at the area’s demographics, surrounding sports facilities and marketing trends, concluding, “Demographically, this is an amazing marketplace.”

While there are plenty of youth sports complexes in the area, Johnson said, there are few tournament facilities.

He recommended starting with an 85,000- to 100,000-square-foot indoor venue with ball fields, basketball courts and multipurpose rooms.

Caum said the county commission and Pasco’s Tourist Development Council will discuss Johnson’s feasibility study in more detail at the upcoming workshop.

“Then they’ll decide where to go from there,” he said.

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