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Monday, Oct 23, 2017
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Tourism officials want to bring rugby tournament to Pasco

DADE CITY - The Tourist Development Council approved up to $22,500 today to help bring a rugby tournament to Pasco County in December, but some council members expressed skepticism that the investment is a good one. Those on the dissenting end of a 6-3 vote said hotels in Hillsborough County will be the beneficiaries, and if the tournament becomes successful the organizers likely will move it to another county in future years. Council member Gregory Riehle, who works for Saddlebrook Resort, said he hopes the situation works out for Pasco County, but he is doubtful. "I don't think the evidence points in that direction," he said.
The inaugural Sevens Rugby National Championship, expected to draw 52 teams, is scheduled for Dec. 29-31 at the Land O' Lakes Recreation Center. The rugby tournament is being created in a joint venture by USA Sevens Rugby and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment's subsidiary, NDP Lacrosse, which holds the annual Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse event in Wesley Chapel. The rugby tournament is scheduled at the same time as the 2013 lacrosse tournament. Riehle said many hotel rooms are already booked for those dates because of lacrosse, plus Land O' Lakes is lacking in hotels. That means the rugby teams will look to Hillsborough, Riehle said. "If they were to change the dates, we would be happy at Saddlebrook to be part of this and see it grow," he said. Joining Riehle in voting against the proposal were council members Karen King and Judy DeBella Thomas. Eric Keaton, Pasco's tourism director, said rugby will be an Olympic sport in 2016, and the county has an opportunity to become part of the sport's growth. The tournament organizers project that the 52 rugby teams will book 624 hotel rooms for the three-day tournament. They expect the tournament to grow each year, and by 2018 they project 114 teams will participate, needing 1,336 rooms for the duration of the tournament, Keaton said. Under the agreement approved by the council, the organizers don't get all the money unless their projections prove true. The council will provide $11,250 up front and another $11,250 if the event reaches its projected teams and room nights. County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader, who also chairs the Tourist Development Council, was among those favoring the sponsorship. "I would hate for us to lose an opportunity to be on the ground floor because I suspect if they go some place else, lacrosse will follow them," Schrader said. Council member Camille Hernandez, the mayor of Dade City, also voiced approval for the plan. "It's a bit of a risk, but it's worth trying," Hernandez said. Also on Wednesday, the council agreed to spend up to $6,750 to sponsor a Professional Bowling Association Senior Tour event April 13-17 at Lane Glo Bowling in New Port Richey. The promoter, Gary Beck of Killer "B" Promotions, asked for $8,000. Beck is expecting 160 bowlers for the event, which will receive $3,000 up front from the council and an additional $3,750 if it meets its projections for participants and hotel-room stays.

rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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