Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Hillsborough County to explore ambitious plan for three sports complexes

TAMPA — Add Hillsborough County Commissioner Chairman Ken Hagan to a long list of politicians before him who say investment in sports is a key component of economic growth.

Hagan on Wednesday outlined a vision for building not one but three major sports complexes as a way to draw tourism and economic development by tapping the market in amateur athletic tournament competition.

Unlike similar proposals of the not-so-distant past, Hagan says at least two of the facilities could get built by private investors. The county already has earmarked money for the third, which would be dedicated largely to youth soccer and also could get a hand from the private sector.

"The economic impact of tournament facilities and sports tourism is significant," Hagan told commissioners. "These facilities are revenue generators."

Hagan gave an overview of each proposal Wednesday, with details about the possible activities but much less information about the financing. He emphasized that each project is mostly conceptual for now, and that it's unclear if either of the privately financed ideas will move forward.

But he emphasized to commissioners the sites' potential economic boost: luring visitors who would stay in the county's hotels, eat in its restaurants and play at other tourism centers during down times in competition.

"The return on investment, visitor spending, infuses real dollars and creates more jobs," he said.

Here are the highlights of the three proposals:

• A 16-field outdoor sporting complex in eastern Hillsborough County. It's the latest iteration of an idea brought seven years ago by then-Commissioner Jim Norman. He had proposed a massive facility on county-owned land then known as Cone Ranch in far northeastern Hillsborough. It drew widespread opposition and was scrapped.

Hagan said thinks there is a possibility for a smaller, but still tournament-caliber complex closer to population centers. He said one promising location adjoins the county's Providence West Park in Riverview, where 84 acres of private land is for sale.

In addition to soccer fields, the Providence Road site could hold football, lacrosse, rugby and field hockey competitions. Commissioner Al Higginbotham suggested adding cricket to the mix.

A United Soccer League professional team has expressed interest a small stadium in partnership with the county, Hagan said, though details remain vague.

Commissioners have already set aside $15 million to buy and build parks, and that money could go toward the Riverview site.

• An indoor, multi-use sports complex somewhere near Tampa's West Shore business district. The theory is it would boost hotel use on weekends, which tend to be slower on weekdays. The Westshore Business Alliance and Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association have been floating the idea of just such a facility.

Investment manager Bob Gries, a former Arena Football League franchise owner, has expressed a willingness to pay for construction and turn it over to a non-profit or government agency, such as the Tampa Sports Authority, to oversee operations, Hagan said.

The complex could host competitions such as volleyball, basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics and fencing. Commissioner Sandy Murman asked that tennis also get consideration.

Gries could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Hagan said land in the West Shore district is scarce, though advocates are eyeing land owned by the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority. The site, west of the Veterans Expressway next to Skyway Park, would hinge on the authority being willing to part with the land.

"We're not making any commitments right now for any non-aviation uses of aviation land because we're working on a master [plan]," airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said. "People approach us all the time with interest in using our property."

• Hagan is not revealing the person or groups pitching a third idea – a 22-field baseball and softball complex that could also be used for other competition. But he said the group is talking about privately building a hotel/dormitory and other attractions, such as an arcade and even a water park, in addition to fields.

He said they are looking for the county to possibly contribute land, though it's still not clear who would operate the park. The group, Hagan added, is looking for 200 to 300 acres. His aide, Rich Reidy, said the outfit making the pitch has seemed most interested in county-owned land abutting and buffering the Southeast County Landfill on County Road 672 near Lithia.

Other commissioners generally praised Hagan's initiative in working on each of the proposals.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked for clarification on who would be responsible for operating costs, or ensure that taxpayers aren't on the hook for private sporting ventures. He cited the arrangement with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which county residents pick up millions in operating shortfalls at Raymond James Stadium.

"What we wouldn't want is something that would end up like Raymond James Stadium, where we've had bad deals and things like that and put the taxpayers on the hook," Beckner said.

"No, it will never happen like that again," Hagan said.

He said his goal is to have the private partners bear that responsibility. A unanimous vote by commissioners tasked county staff with working with the private groups to explore the options.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.

Comments
Weekend Roundup: Three things that blew up on social media

Weekend Roundup: Three things that blew up on social media

From cultural pride to political criticism, the internet has been a firestorm this weekend. For those who stepped away from their phones or computer screens for a breath of fresh air, here are some of the stories that blew up over the past few days.•...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Goodbye, Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Goodbye, Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson

The Rays continue their salary dump as they trade Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a Single-A shortstop and designate All-Star Corey Dickerson for assignment, saving about $10 million in the process.In his latest podcast, Rick Stroud breaks down the mo...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
'Black Panther' blows past expectations, sets box-office record

'Black Panther' blows past expectations, sets box-office record

NEW YORK — A wave of feverish anticipation, fawning critical acclaim and groundbreaking cultural meaning pushed "Black Panther" to a record-setting $192 million debut in U.S. and Canada theaters, firmly establishing the superhero sensation as a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
More than 20 unlicensed contractors arrested after Pinellas sting

More than 20 unlicensed contractors arrested after Pinellas sting

DUNEDIN –– More than 20 unlicensed contractors offered to perform home repairs the past few days, but they didn’t know Pinellas County deputies waited with handcuffs to arrest them. At 11 a.m., Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri will announce deta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Candlelight vigils tonight in Tampa Bay, statewide for Parkland shooting victims

Candlelight vigils tonight in Tampa Bay, statewide for Parkland shooting victims

Several vigils are being held in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the state to honor the 17 victims of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.The Florida PTA is organizing the statewide vigils, which will begin at 7 p.m. u...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Head-on collision in Tampa blocks EB lanes of Courtney Campbell Causeway

Head-on collision in Tampa blocks EB lanes of Courtney Campbell Causeway

A head-on collision Monday morning has shut down many of the eastbound lanes on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.Only one lane of traffic is able to squeeze through, according to 10News Traffic.Drivers are recommended to avoid the causeway and instead ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: Temperatures hover near record highs across Tampa Bay, with little rain

Forecast: Temperatures hover near record highs across Tampa Bay, with little rain

Warm weather will continue this week across Tampa Bay, with temperatures hanging around the low to mid 80s and a low chance of rain for the first half.Early morning fog is sparse across central Florida with some low visibility inland in places such a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community

TAMPA — Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart says he’s ready to put his checkbook where his heart is when it comes to supporting a Tampa Bay Rays move to Ybor City.So is the investment fund for the founding family of Ashley Furniture. So, it ap...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, reported missing in Manatee County

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, reported missing in Manatee County

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is searching for the 12-year-old sister of a murder victim who was reported missing on Sunday night.Deputies say Jalyssa Shannon left her Manatee County home around 9 p.m. Her mother, Michelle Mosley, reported her ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Daystarter: Stoneman Douglas students to protest in Tallahassee; ‘We had this monster living under our roof’; Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; SOCom prepares for Warrior Games

The Daystarter: Stoneman Douglas students to protest in Tallahassee; ‘We had this monster living under our roof’; Will Rays Ybor move equal more corporate support?; SOCom prepares for Warrior Games

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• An...
Updated: 4 hours ago