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Pasco commissioners delay vote on sports complex site

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners put off a decision Tuesday on a consultant's recommendation to build a multi-use sports complex in Trinity after it became clear that there were not enough votes to move the project forward.

A majority of the board — chairwoman Pat Mulieri and commissioners Ted Schrader and Jack Mariano — criticized California-based consultant Sports­plex USA over its report naming the county-owned site off Trinity Boulevard (next to the joint fire station/sheriff's substation) as the top choice.

Mulieri and Schrader said the firm's report lacked solid data about why it recommended the Trinity location over about 10 others.

"I don't really think you knew the area that well," Mulieri told commissioners.

Mariano, a frequent critic of Sportsplex, faulted the firm's overall proposal on a number of fronts, from the number of fields to the proposed use of artificial turf.

Mulieri suggested putting off a vote until commissioners could get more detailed figures for the costs of prepping each of the sites for construction, something Sportsplex did not include in the report.

The two-hour discussion ended with Sportsplex officials agreeing to get that information from their engineer in time for commissioners' Jan. 26 meeting.

But Sportsplex chairman Paul Berghoff refused a request by Mariano to do additional research by interviewing more sports promoters about whether they would participate if there were only four fields.

"We're in a position now where we've done all we're going to do," Berghoff told commissioners.

Outside the meeting, asked if he wanted to continue doing business with Pasco, Berghoff said his problem was with Mariano.

"It's really just one person I think who is the obstructionist," he said.

Pasco plans to use tourist tax revenue — also known as the "bed tax" paid by motel and short-term rental guests — to build the project.

To justify using that pot of money, officials want the complex to host weekend sports tournaments that would get players — and their families — to stay in county hotels and dine and shop at local businesses.

Sportsplex has recommended a possible design for the Trinity site: four lighted softball/baseball fields, three multipurpose fields, one football field, a fieldhouse, six batting cages and a 6,500-square-foot restaurant and office building.

Sportsplex officials said that design would work for tournaments with 25 to 40 teams.

The report by Sportsplex USA, released last Wednesday, says the county's 24-acre Trinity site stood out for a number of reasons, most notably because it has "zero constraints that would hinder construction" and because it would have a "substantial impact" on alleviating overcrowded county recreation fields.

Representatives of some of the other sites plus a handful of residents urged commissioners to hold off on siding with the consultant's recommendation.

Trey Starkey, whose family's property was under consideration, said the 24-acre site left no room for future expansion. "They're going to be pigeon-holed in there," he said.

He added that the firm's estimates of how much it would cost to get his site ready for construction cited no sources. "They didn't show the math," he said.

Greg Riehle, a member of the Tourist Development Council and manager of Saddlebrook Resort, said the report's focus proved his theory that the multi-sports complex is aimed more at relieving overcrowded sports fields than attracting tourists.

"Who are we trying to kid here?" said Riehle, whose resort was to have operated the failed tennis stadium project that would have used tourist tax dollars.

Schrader said the report was light on information he needed to justify to his east-side constituents why he would support building the project in west Pasco.

He said the report's focus on such factors as population centers and which site was most construction-ready implied Sportsplex was more interested in attracting people to the restaurant that would be at the center of the complex.

"It seems you're trying to get a site that can be developed quickest for your benefit," Schrader said.

Cox, a strong supporter of the project since its inception, said he opposed any further delays. He said the Trinity site was the best pick because it was the closest one to being ready for construction.

"We've been beating this thing for a long time," he said, and "I think it's time we get moving on it."

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

Pasco commissioners delay vote on sports complex site 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 9:14pm]

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