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Pasco commissioners shift gears on softball complex

NEW PORT RICHEY — In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Pasco commissioners turned the clock back to a simpler time, a time before they decided to build a $12 million softball complex on Trinity Boulevard and hundreds of Heritage Springs residents in red shirts showed up to protest.

That site is no longer under consideration.

In its place are three other choices: the 30-acre Mitchell property just east of the hospital under construction on State Road 54; 25 acres off Community Drive, near Trinity Memorial Gardens; and a 40-acre site at Starkey Ranch.

The first two alternatives emerged last week as two prominent landowners — the Mitchell family and Adam Smith Enterprises — sought to keep the Sportsplex project in Trinity. A frustrated Trey Starkey had taken his family's Odessa property out of the mix late last month, but his brother, Frank, told commissioners Tuesday in an e-mail that they wanted to reconsider.

County officials will spend the next month coming up with cost estimates and pros and cons of each of those locations.

"We haven't been able to agree on a whole lot regarding (the sports complex)," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who made the motion to undo the January vote selecting the Trinity Boulevard site. "But I tell you there's one thing we agree on, we woke up a sleeping giant in the area of Heritage Springs."

That drew a laugh from the more than 150 residents of the senior Heritage Springs community who attended Tuesday's meeting. They applauded, too, after they realized their location had been taken off the list.

But Heritage Springs residents don't like the cemetery site, either. Their board of directors on Friday endorsed the Mitchell land next to the new hospital.

"It still impacts our community," resident Pat Melick said of the site near the cemetery. "And they think we're too stupid to know the smoke and mirrors?"

The top selling points for the Trinity Boulevard site was that it was ready to go. That's not the case with the three sites now under consideration.

The Mitchell land will need stormwater permitting, which is expected to take at least six months. The site near the cemetery would involve a swap of already approved uses in Trinity's development plan, something that would require public hearings. And the Starkey Ranch property also will need an access road.

Sportsplex USA, the consultant that recommended the Trinity Boulevard site and is negotiating to operate the facility, told Commissioner Pat Mulieri that the Mitchell land also could work for the sports complex, which would host tournaments for out-of-town teams and relieve the pressure on other sports fields. Sportsplex would make most of its money off the restaurants and give the county a share of that revenue.

But the California company, which is trying to get a foothold in the Florida market, has indicated that it wants a definitive answer soon.

"Whatever we do, we need to put the fast track on it," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "I don't know how long Sportsplex is going to wait."

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

Pasco commissioners shift gears on softball complex 04/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 9:11pm]
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