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New details released on Pasco parks plans

County commissioners will have two stark options when they meet later this month to consider plans for a new privately operated park. One would draw wakeboarders to a gorgeous blue lake in Aripeka. The other would draw families to the hopping Wiregass area for youth sports tournaments.

Formal presentations for the parks were released Thursday. The county received the proposals last month, but they were exempt from public review for 30 days under state purchasing guidelines.

Both plans help flesh out details about the two ideas, but they also leave some questions unanswered. The biggest question: How much tax money are commissioners willing to put up for the plans?

Commissioners will meet Nov. 30 to discuss how they will split up the more than $11 million in tourist development cash that could be spent on the projects. The county has millions of dollars socked away to build new parks, but scant resources for operations.

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Former professional wakeboarder Patrick Panakos founded an Orlando company to help increase the popularity of his sport by building more wake parks. He wants to expand to Aripeka by building a cable-based system on a county-owned lake at the old SunWest mine site.

Panakos' proposal says the Pasco park would "change the way people perceive wake parks," much like a 1999 televised skateboarding trick by Tony Hawk legitimized action sports and sparked scores of elaborate skate parks.

"Wake parks are still new and rare in the United States, however, there is traction behind them to change this," Panakos says in the proposal.

There are 13 wake parks in the United States, and Panakos' company has built two of them. It's also built three parks overseas and helped with other wakeboarding events. The cost figures for the Pasco park are unclear. The proposal said it would cost at least $1 million, though some parks cost three to four times that amount.

Panakos did not return a message left Thursday. At a previous County Commission meeting, he suggested his company could pay for the cost of building the park if the county donated the land. The county owns land for a future park at the SunWest site that would be nestled next to the planned SunWest Harbourtowne development. At the meeting, he called putting a cable park at the SunWest lake a "no-brainer."

His plan calls for a pro shop that would sell wake boards and goods such as swimsuits and sunscreen. There would be a concession area. The county has roughly $2.5 million from a settlement agreement that could be used to create beaches along the edge of the lake.

There are five similar parks in Florida, including two in Orlando and one each in Seffner, Fort Myers and Deerfield Beach. The plan for the SunWest park calls for projected sales to reach $1.1 million, with a small percentage of sales going to the county.

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The $25 million Fields at Wiregrass is described as a "legacy project" for the Porter family that owns the development. The 160-acre park would sit just north of the Shops at Wiregrass outdoor mall, and would be nestled between the new Florida Hospital and the proposed Raymond James satellite campus. A future "town center" would be within walking distance.

"This is how you create places that aren't simply bedroom communities," said J.D. Porter, whose father and uncle would lead the company that runs the park.

The plan would include 12 multi-purpose fields that could accommodate soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football. There would be three full-sized baseball fields and three little league fields. There would also be three "swing" fields with portable fences for either adult baseball or little league.

Amenities would include concession stands, press boxes, rest rooms and a passive park area. The plan also calls for fishing areas, hiking trails and an area for canoes or kayaks.

The Porters also recruited former Disney executive Steve Daugherty to help with the project. Daugherty spent more than 10 years managing youth sports tournaments for the Disney Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando and brings "instant credibility" to the plan, the Porters' proposal said. In that job, he managed 40 events annually with annual revenues exceeding $10 million. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

If approved by the county, the park could host its first tournament by spring break 2014. The plan envisions 20 tournaments in the first year and 40 by year five.

Fields would be mainly used Thursday through Sunday for tournaments and rested or maintained on other days. There could be "limited" public use of some fields.

The county's request "was for the tourist development money," Porter said. "We geared our response toward that side of it."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

New details released on Pasco parks plans 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 7:48pm]

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