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For Pasco sports complex, Starkey Ranch site favored over Connerton, Wiregrass

The San Diego company hoping to run a publicly financed sports complex in Pasco County has recommended its top site for the proposed facility: Starkey Ranch.

The Trinity property got the nod over Connerton and Wiregrass in a preliminary analysis based on such factors as proximity to the airport, retail centers and hotels.

Sportsplex USA, which is vying with replica park builder Big League Dreams for the county contract, put together the site selection as part of its pitch for the job. County commissioners are scheduled to take up the proposals next month.

County officials had asked Sportsplex to look at those three large development of regional impact properties, all of which include available public land, said chief assistant county administrator Michele Baker.

Officials expect construction costs for Sportsplex's proposal to be lower than those of Big League Dreams' proposed replica stadium complex, which was estimated to cost between $25 million and $35 million to build.

So far, much of the talk for big sports attractions has focused on central Pasco, mainly because of the $7.9 million national tennis stadium that had been proposed on donated property in Wesley Chapel. That project officially fell apart last week, however, after Saddlebrook Resort, which was supposed to operate the facility, walked away from negotiations with the county.

Trey Starkey, one of the developers of his family's proposed residential and commercial project off State Road 54, said the Trinity area would be a natural choice for the ballfields.

"In fairness, it's our turn to have it," he said.

Starkey, who has spoken with officials from both Sportsplex and Big League Dreams, said the ranch property has 40 acres slated to be a public park as part of the project's development of regional impact order. The county has an option, good until September 2010, to purchase another 40 acres for roughly $1 million.

If Sportsplex's early estimates hold true, there are good business reasons for Starkey to want it in his part of the county.

Sportsplex says it thinks it could book a tournament at a Pasco facility for every weekend of the year. It says it has already found five adult softball organizations that would use it for 68 weekend events a year and five youth sports associations that would want it for 32 weekend events a year.

Considering job creation as well as the impact on hotels and restaurants, Starkey said, "This has a higher multiplier effect than a typical district park."

Tourism tax

Such a facility would be paid for with the tourism tax paid by guests at Pasco hotels and the impact fees paid by developers on new homes. That second part of the equation will have a large bearing on where in the county the complex would be located.

Park impact fees must be spent in the geographic zone — west, central or east — where they are collected. The only exception is coastal parks, because people from all over the county would use those, said parks and recreation director Rick Buckman.

By far, the most impact fee money available is on the west side of the county. About $8.7 million is earmarked for a Trinity-area sports complex, said Martha Campbell, in the county's parks and recreation department.

Only $4.7 million is left for central Pasco park projects, and most of that is already budgeted. Buckman said central Pasco used up most of its impact fees on the new district park in Wesley Chapel and the expansion at the Land O'Lakes recreation center. The east side has less than $2 million, all of which is already budgeted for projects in that area.

Location issues

Commissioner Michael Cox said he thinks putting the complex in the Trinity area would help alleviate some of the overcrowding in the older west side parks, such as Mitchell Park, which is "bursting at the seams."

He said the impact fee issue will be a major one.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said that he would want the complex to go to the part of the county where it's easiest to keep visitors in Pasco hotels. He said he worries that the good news about Starkey Ranch — it's close to the Suncoast Parkway — also makes it too tempting for out-of-towners to stay and eat in Tampa.

He said another consideration will be how much land is available for the county, and he wants to see if any large landowners in east Pasco would be willing to donate land.

"If a donation is forthcoming," he said, "it makes our decision a lot easier."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

For Pasco sports complex, Starkey Ranch site favored over Connerton, Wiregrass 05/18/09 [Last modified: Monday, May 18, 2009 8:43pm]
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