Pasco commissioner suggests building 2 sports complexes

NEW PORT RICHEY — When it comes to deciding where to build a multisports complex, Commissioner Ted Schrader pitched an idea Tuesday for bridging the gap between east and west Pasco County:

Build two complexes.

The county's consultant, Sportsplex USA, has recommended building on county-owned property in Trinity. The complex, which is envisioned as a place that could host sports tournaments, would be paid for with tourist tax money, which now totals around $11 million.

"Instead of just thinking of one," Schrader said, "let's think of two."

A top official with New River Township in Wesley Chapel, Eric Marks, raised the idea of building two complexes at a commission meeting earlier this month, but no commissioner at that time expressed support.

But Schrader told his colleagues at Tuesday's meeting that he started thinking about building two complexes — one in the west, one in the east — in light of the extended debate over the location of the project.

His idea was sparked as well, he said, by news last week that Sportsplex had been discussing similar projects in Orange and Manatee counties.

His proposal? Figure out the cost of building the first project and have an east or central Pasco location up to bat next. That second project could be built with tourism money — if any is left over from the first location — or from impact fee or sales tax, he said in an interview.

Last week the Pasco Times reported that Sportsplex was trying to get a foothold into the Florida market and had approached officials in Manatee and Orange counties.

Worried that a Manatee facility might be competition for sports tournaments, Schrader said Pasco County could use the possibility of a second project to entice Sportsplex to cut off discussions with Manatee.

Sportsplex officials presented their recommendations and report at the meeting earlier this month. But the report did not flesh out the reasons for choosing the Trinity location over about 10 other sites other than the fact that prepping that site for construction would be inexpensive.

Commissioners put off voting on the recommendation until January after it became clear that only two of the five commissioners — Michael Cox and Ann Hildebrand — wanted to move forward at the meeting earlier this month.

On Tuesday, the other commissioners did not endorse or discourage Schrader's proposal, which he said he would bring up for further discussion at next month's meeting.

Schrader said he saw Wiregrass or New River as potential second locations.

Hildebrand said she would want to short-list the sites from the start; her top three are the Trinity site, Starkey Ranch and Wiregrass.

Cox, who has visited Sports- plex's projects in California, noted that the company has two projects in the Golden State that are less than a 15-minute drive apart — and both stay busy. He said he was most interested in New River as a second site.

"I think (that) site is a really good No. 2," he said.

Commissioner Jack Mariano, who has been a critic of Sports- plex, is working closely with a local group on plans to build new fields and a restaurant at a different location: the county's Engle Park in Hudson.

On Tuesday, Mariano continued to question the details of Sportsplex's proposal. He didn't have much to say about Schrader's two-project idea but said he was bothered that the company was talking to other counties.

"I'm surprised there's not more of a reaction to that," he said.

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

Fast facts

Stimulus grant to be sought for Fire Rescue

In other news Tuesday, commissioners:

• Agreed to apply for a federal stimulus grant to fill 33 fire rescue positions that were left vacant due to the tight budget season. The grant would cover two years' worth of salaries and benefits and does not require a county match or commitment to keep the employees on for any length of time once the grant expires. Not having those 33 positions filled — plus having only a limited amount of overtime money — means that some trucks could have as few as two firefighters aboard if enough people called in sick or are on vacation. Chief Anthony Lopinto said the grant would need to be around $4.5 million to cover all those costs. "It brings about sustainability for the next two years while we regroup," he told commissioners.

• Received $207,300 in the annual refund from Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.

• Agreed to pay $350,000 for the first study required to get federal approval for an interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road. Officials say the existing interchanges at State Roads 52 and 54 won't be able to handle traffic generated by a number of future large-scale developments in that area.

Pasco commissioner suggests building 2 sports complexes 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8:49pm]

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