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Hockey project rises again

WESLEY CHAPEL — Amid all the talk of a new softball complex in Trinity and lacrosse fields near Saddlebrook Resort comes the resurrection of another sports-themed proposal:

A 470,000-square-foot arena with three ice hockey rinks, a 36-lane bowling alley, miniature golf, laser tag, indoor water park, five restaurants and 140-room hotel.

Known now as "The Plex," the private proposal was first floated for land near The Grove at Wesley Chapel Mall nearly two years ago. Back then it was a $35-million, 270,000-square-foot facility that had a number of names in the hockey world attached to it.

But the project never got off the ground. One of the principals initially involved, St. Petersburg businessman G. Vallee Bain, has been meeting during the past year with county officials and staff from the Pasco Economic Development Council.

Tuesday, the Pasco Tourist Development Council got its first look at Bain's written proposal, which included an overview of the project and architectural drawings. County tourism manager Eric Keaton said Bain asked him to provide council members an overview of the project.

County Commission chairwoman Pat Mulieri, who heads the tourist council, noted the various proposals in that area — a Pasco-Hernando Community College campus, a hospital and the lacrosse fields and events center near Saddlebrook. And now, possibly, The Plex.

"There's so much coming to that area," she said.

The centerpiece of the project would be the hockey arena, which the proposal says could be a training facility for children and adults. The only public rinks in the Tampa Bay area are in Brandon and Oldsmar.

"In the meetings we've had so far, it's an exciting looking project," Keaton said after the meeting. "On paper, this looks like a great idea."

The proposal, written in February 2009, is very specific on some points — one eatery, for instance, will serve a "Spicy Shrimp Po' Boy sandwich and Crisp Golden Calamari with lemon-caper aioli" — but Bain was short on other details in an interview Wednesday.

He declined to say how many investors the facility has or provide additional details about potential tournaments or partnerships with professional teams. But he said he's lined up all the private financing he needs, and major news would be coming in about a month.

"There'll be a big surprise on the hockey end of it," he said. "We'll be noted as one of the top hockey training centers."

He said he hopes to break ground on the facility — three times the size of a Walmart Supercenter — as soon as August.

Bain's former partner on the project, Clearwater tire dealer Patrick DeLorenzo, was surprised Wednesday to hear about the latest developments. He said the two parted ways after he thought Bain had gotten too far removed from the ice hockey and more focused on the other "Busch Gardens" amenities.

DeLorenzo, a hockey player and NHL "off-ice" official, said he has plans of his own. He said he is looking at building a facility in the Wiregrass Ranch area aimed more at ice hockey and is lining up investors and well-known names in the hockey world.

In fact, he said, he had an appointment to meet today with an architect about his plans.

"This is going to be a very, very good community project," he said.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

In other news

Development council for tourist tax hike

The Pasco Tourist Development Council voted 6 to 1 to affirm its previous support for raising the surcharge on overnight stays in Pasco hotels and resorts from 2 percent to 3 percent. The dissenting vote was cast by Judy DeBella Thomas, a New Port Richey City Council member and executive director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street.

Pasco commissioners had asked the tourist council to re-evaluate a proposed spending plan that does not assume the extra revenue from a tax increase. Increasing the tourist tax looked like a no-go back in February after two commissioners went on record opposing the increase. The measure would need the support of four of the five commissioners.

But member Phil Bell, a representative from the Pasco School District, questioned why the group should bother getting into those details when it had already spoken, and his colleagues agreed. "I think it's totally embarrassing we don't see the light to go to 3 percent," he said.

Commissioners will take up the matter again on April 14.

Hockey project rises again 03/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 10:21pm]
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