NEW PORT RICHEY — In less than two weeks, Pasco County will open bids for the first phase of its SunWest Park, but disagreements over maintenance and liability are holding up negotiations with the vendor selected to build a wakeboarding park on the massive lake.
County Administrator Michele Baker told commissioners Tuesday she hopes to resolve the issues and bring a contract for a vote by February.
“I think impasse is a strong word,” Baker said. “But we don’t want to award the bid for construction of the park if we don’t have an operator.”
Pat Panakos, a Clearwater native who has built one of the world’s most successful wakeboarding companies, was selected nearly two years ago to build the cable park at SunWest.
“Right now, we just want to take it one step at a time,” Panakos said. “It’s been a long time, and we’ve been really patient. Now they’re like, let’s go.”
Panakos said the scope of the project is very different from the original concept. “This project has changed since we first bid on it, and it keeps moving,” he said. The redesigned park includes more beaches, which require full-time lifeguards — an expense he wasn’t prepared to bear. “The public swimming aspect kind of threw us for a loop,” Panakos said.
The public beaches also would require more daily maintenance than he budgeted for. He’s asked the county to reduce the proposed $5,000 monthly rental fee to offset the higher expenses.
“They’re talking about sharing a percentage of ticket sales, camp revenue, private lessons and sponsorships,” said Jane Fagan, assistant county attorney.
Fagan said Panakos also has asked the county to delete a non-compete clause that would forbid Panakos’ company from opening another wake park in the seven-county region. “They believe wake parks in surrounding counties will actually increase use at the SunWest facility,” she said.
If the park does get built next year, it would likely be a stripped down version of the concept Panakos proposed two years ago.
“We’re going to have to get creative,” Panakos said. “We can’t build our retail store and concessions until the boardwalk gets built — and that’s not included in the first phase. We’re going to have to start out with modular buildings for our ticket office and store.”
He said the park would utilize Airstream trailers or food truck vendors until a permanent concession stand is built in a later phase.