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Pasco County Commission pushes for final deal with Sportsplex USA for sports complex

DADE CITY — Just a month ago, they were shaking their heads over the demise of their plans for a national tennis stadium in Wesley Chapel.

But on Tuesday, Pasco County commissioners focused their sights and tourist tax dollars on something else: a multisports complex envisioned to attract tournaments, tourists and money.

Commissioners voted unanimously to finalize negotiations with Sportsplex USA, of San Diego, the firm that would act as a consultant on the design and construction of the project and later operate the facility on the county's behalf.

"I think the board is really on the cusp of doing something exciting," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri.

Consulting fees are proposed to be around $270,000. Though the mix of fields is up for debate, preliminary construction costs range from $10.5 million to $11.6 million for five baseball and softball fields, a soccer arena, batting cages and two restaurants.

About $11.2 million in the tourist tax fund — money paid by guests at Pasco hotels — should be available by the end of the fiscal year. That amount includes the $7.9 million that had been earmarked for the failed tennis stadium.

One big question: Where would the complex go?

Sportsplex had recommended the Starkey Ranch in Trinity as part of a preliminary analysis that looked at only two other sites, Connerton and Wiregrass. County officials had suggested the firm look at those developments because they already have public land set aside for parks.

But commissioners from other districts said the Starkey site is a long way from a sure thing.

Chairman Jack Mariano, whose district includes northwest Pasco, wanted to know about county land near Engle Park in Hudson.

Mulieri suggested that the complex be centrally located.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said Wiregrass property — the 24 donated acres once slated for the tennis stadium plus 16 adjacent acres planned to be a county park — could be the most appropriate site.

But he added he didn't think large DRIs — developments of regional impact like Starkey and Wiregrass — should be the only potential locations. He said he'd talked to representatives of other landowners who might be willing to pony up the land.

Park impact fees could be a funding source for the project. If they turn out to be a large factor, west Pasco would seem the most likely location. Park impact fees must be spent in the geographic zones where they are collected, and there is far more impact fee money available on the county's west side.

But Schrader said he thought impact fees should be a funding of "last resort," given the $11.2 million in tourism tax dollars available. Mulieri said she agreed.

Commissioner Michael Cox, who had pushed for the multisports complex even as the tennis stadium seemed a sure thing, said he didn't think the commission should "get bogged down in site selection."

He figured there was a 95 percent chance the complex wouldn't end up in his district. "I'm fine with that," he said.

Mariano suggested holding a workshop in which local sports associations could suggest what they look for in tournament selections.

"We want to put a viable and attractive project out there that's going to drive heads in beds," he said.

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

Fast facts

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved submitting an application to get $4.2 million in federal stimulus money for creating and implementing a plan to cut energy use at county buildings. A preliminary audit by firm TAC Americas shows the county could save nearly $588,000 a year in utility bills and repairs by replacing aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment, outdated lighting technology and updating other energy systems. The Department of Energy grant is not competitive and decides how much each government gets based on a funding formula. The county needs federal approval before it can get the money.

• Approved a $500,177 three-year grant application by the Pasco Sheriff's Office to hire two detectives for its tactical narcotics team. The grant is through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

Pasco County Commission pushes for final deal with Sportsplex USA for sports complex 06/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 8:31pm]
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