Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco commissioners hear pitch for district park on Starkey Ranch site

DADE CITY — Three years ago the Trinity area was left at the altar when Sportsplex USA walked away from a deal to partner with the county on a park aimed at drawing out-of-town tournaments after county commissioners couldn't agree on terms.

During a workshop Tuesday, the park idea was resurrected.

A design firm working for the developers of Starkey Ranch made a pitch to county commissioners for a district park on its property that would include 15 sports fields that could be shared with an elementary and middle school site next door.

"We have not negotiated a business deal," County Administrator Michele Baker said. "The train is moving fast and gathering a head of steam, but there are a lot of business decisions yet to be made."

The developer, Wheelock Street Capital, would donate 40 acres, while the county would have to buy 40 acres. Developers hope to have the park built when the first neighborhood begins construction next year.

The proposal, estimated to cost $9.3 million for construction of the first phase and $17 million over the next decade, was the result of a study done in May by a group made up of county staffers, developers and school district employees. The group developed a wish list of amenities for a park. Among those in the first phase were a large baseball field, three small baseball fields, four large soccer/multiuse fields, three picnic shelters, four tennis courts, four basketball courts, a playground, 8-foot-wide trails and unobstructed open space.

The tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields, playground, picnic area, track and field, school library, multiuse play field and parking would be shared with the schools.

The conclusion was that "a public private partnership is a win-win and should be embraced," said Pat Gassaway, president of Heidt Design, a Tampa planning and engineering firm working with the county and developers.

The group evaluated three possible sites on the property, with the planners taking ideas for those and pitching a fourth one that can accommodate all the fields that the county has said are needed to draw tournaments.

The developers also met with homeowners associations to get their perspective.

"We got good feedback," Gassaway said.

School officials said they would do their best to work with the county but stopped short of an outright endorsement, saying the 23.5 acres set aside for schools may be too small.

"There's no way we can fit two schools on the site," said Ray Gadd, assistant superintendent for administration and operations. "I'll do everything I can do to figure out how to get a middle school and elementary school on this site."

Gadd added that the district won't need the site for at least four to five years but urged the commission to let school officials work out their own challenges before moving forward.

"If we move forward and don't have the details nailed down, then we're going to be arguing with each other," he said. "I think it's important we get this one done right."

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, also a former Pasco School Board member, praised the idea and cited Northlake Park Community Elementary School in Orlando as an example of successful cooperation. The school shares a building with the local YMCA. The site also includes an Olympic pool, soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, a dog park, a dock and a lake.

"It's done all over the country," she said. "We have a good opportunity here."

This will be the second time Starkey Ranch has been considered for a park site.

It was on the list of possible sites for a regional sports park in 2010, but the San Diego company hired to pick a site recommended county-owned land near Trinity. The county abandoned that site after neighbors complained, and shortly afterward the company pulled out of the partnership.

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