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Pasco officials to consider changes for Wiregrass Ranch property

Advocates for light rail hope to get an extended route to the Shops of Wiregrass outdoor mall in Wesley Chapel that would connect the area with Hillsborough County.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times (2008)

Advocates for light rail hope to get an extended route to the Shops of Wiregrass outdoor mall in Wesley Chapel that would connect the area with Hillsborough County.

WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch, the mega-development that is already home to a mall and soon to a hospital and community college, is moving a step closer to becoming the site of a much talked-about hockey rink and lacrosse fields.

A committee of top county officials, who must approve all the proposed development plans, are set today to consider some changes being proposed by the Porter ranching family, who have owned the property since the World War II era.

Among them: setting aside enough land to accommodate a 300,000-square-foot "attractions and recreation facility," according to papers filed with the county.

J.D. Porter, manager for the development, said the family wanted the ability to attract "a huge sports complex that would rival any other sports complex," with a variety of recreational activities for the public and the ability to host sports tournaments.

He declined to talk specifics, but said the family had talked to some interested people.

"Nothing is under contract," he said.

State law says the attractions/recreation designation allows for "sports, entertainment, amusement, or recreation facility including, but not limited to, a sports arena, stadium, racetrack, tourist attraction, amusement park, or pari-mutuel facility."

Other proposed changes include quadrupling the number of hotel rooms from 120 to 480, adding an 18-hole golf course and specifying nearly 200,000 of the more than 2 million square feet of proposed office space for medical buildings to support Wesley Chapel Medical Center, the 80-bed hospital that is set to be built on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard north of State Road 56. Another change would eliminate homes to clear the way for the 707-student branch of Pasco-Hernando Community College.

County staff have recommended approving the proposed changes, which also were reviewed by Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. Because of its size, Wiregrass is classified as a development of regional impact, which means it is subject to more scrutiny than other projects.

The proposal doesn't say whether the project would need tourist tax dollars to operate. But in May, the Porter family met privately with county officials and proposed a land swap for a 40-acre site near Saddlebrook Resort that the family had donated but that lacked access roads. That property was the site of a failed tennis stadium plan.

The county could instead have 40 acres near State Road 56, next to a spot where the family is hoping a private company will build the ice hockey sports complex.

Plans have been big for the area, which has become an extension of the development in New Tampa.

Light rail advocates also hope to extend a route to the Shops at Wiregrass, an outdoor mall that opened in 2008. The route would connect the area with Hillsborough.

A sports complex would complement the one under consideration for the county's west side, which would be built with tourism taxes and is aimed at bringing in out-of-county visitors for sports tournaments.

Pasco officials to consider changes for Wiregrass Ranch property 07/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 8:52pm]
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