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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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SunWest’s sports potential grows

ARIPEKA — The man who helped bring professional beach volleyball to St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park said Pasco County could lure similar sporting events to its SunWest Park.

“It could become a really premier venue for beach sports — a bit off the beaten path but well worth investigation,” consultant Mario Farias said after his first visit to the site.

Farias, part-owner of the Association of Professional Volleyball tour, joined members of the Pasco County Tourist Development Council at SunWest on Wednesday. County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano outlined the county’s park plans on the banks of the 60-acre lake.

The county will open bids Dec. 20 for first phase of the park, which includes creating a new entrance off U.S. 19, constructing beaches on the south and west shores of the lake and building a 500-space parking lot. The county is negotiating with wake park designer Pat Panakos to install a cable system and operate the park.

Mariano said the beaches will be large enough to fit 40 volleyball courts. If the bids are acceptable, he thinks the park could be open by Memorial Day weekend.

Farias said Mariano showed him the plans in September during the AVP event that drew a record 9,000 spectators to Vinoy Park. The tournament was broadcast nationally on CBS.

“I got very interested then,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve seen the facility — it’s pretty amazing. It’s going to be a big undertaking, but once it’s done it’s going to an amazing venue.”

The SunWest site does have drawbacks: a lack of hotels in the area and the remote location. It’s nearly an hour’s drive from the airports in Tampa and Clearwater.

“The distance is going to be an issue, so it has to be a big enough event (with) enough prize money or prestige to make the trip out here,” Farias said. “It would be a great place to hold a championship.”

The park master plan calls for later phases with a boardwalk with restaurants and shops. “Try to imagine Johns Pass — then think bigger,” Mariano told council members.

Those phases are currently unfunded.

Mariano said SunWest Harbourtowne developer Gary Grubb has a plan to solve the hotel question. He has proposed building a resort hotel overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on the adjoining parcel. He described a concept similar to Palm Harbor’s Innisbrook Resort, featuring a championship golf course, a 190-acre lake with a marina and water park and meeting space for conventions and weddings.

Grubb told members of the tourism council he, too, is looking for a developer.

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