WESLEY CHAPEL — A Tampa developer trying to raise $23 million in private money to build a Pasco County youth sports complex has turned to baseball star Gary Sheffield and a prominent league owner to attract investors.
James Talton, owner of Blue Marble Strategic, has signed Sheffield and Chuck White as "co-owners" of Pasco Sports LLC, the company formed to build a 19-field sports complex with about $11 million in Pasco tourism taxes and the private investments. The park would be north of the Shops at Wiregrass on land donated by the Porter family.
"My role is doing the operations," said Sheffield, who played Little League baseball in Tampa and spent 22 years in the big leagues. "I'm the spokesperson, and I'm promoting the facility."
Sheffield declined to say whether he had invested any cash in the venture. But he said he will use his connections to help land financing.
He said he envisions the park, which is set to have nine major league regulation ball fields, a stadium and 10 youth-sized fields, will be used also for private camps and a lure for scouts.
He said he will help oversee the design to make sure fields meet major league standards.
"We want to give parents a destination to bring their kids to so they can fulfill their dreams," he said.
Talton said he approached the men separately a few months ago. Sheffield, it turned out, was interested because the idea dovetailed with his dream of launching a facility or program to help youths.
The goal now, Talton said, is to find the right mix of equity partners and long-term investor financing.
Talton had once talked of the park being used as a spring training facility, but so far no teams have expressed interest publicly.
White said his role is marketing. White owns the IBC Baseball League, which runs youth baseball tournaments, and Game Ready Scout Day, which trains youths for college or pro-level play and scouts, and evaluates players from across the country.
White said he'll use his contacts to organize tournaments at the facility, bringing in high-school-level players ready to make the leap to college or the minor leagues.
"Companies already know about our project, and they have an interest," he said.
Talton, who signed the agreement with the county in January, has until mid-July to find the money. But such a task could prove difficult, say observers in sports and development.
"The economy is still challenging for that type of fundraising," said John Webb, president of the Florida Sports Foundation. But he said youth sports have become a big draw.
J.D. Porter, whose family donated the Pasco park land, said that the private sector could be skittish unless investors could be assured of a reasonable return.
He said spring training could eventually come to Pasco, but the county park "is best suited for youth sports."
Sheffield said he's confident his reputation will dispel anyone's concerns about fundraising.
"They don't know who I know," he said.