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Pasco moves forward with planned sports complex

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday signed off on a $270,000 contract with a San Diego firm that will help the county come up with a site, design and marketing plan for a sports complex.

Officials hope the multisport complex will give a shot in the arm to the local economy, attracting tournaments — and tourists with money to spend.

The complex, along with the consulting agreement with Sportsplex USA, would be paid for with the so-called bed tax collected from motels and hotels. That money can be used for only tourism-related purposes.

The first order of business under the 28-month agreement: investigating where exactly to build such a complex. That first phase of the work is scheduled to take four months.

Sportsplex officials, who visited Pasco in February, said they hadn't seen any site that stood out.

"We didn't see a site that had any sizzle to it," said company chairman Paul Berghoff.

He said he strongly recommended that they look first at areas near Interstate 75 and the Suncoast Parkway. Accessibility and visibility are two crucial elements to the success of such a park, he said. And, he added, the county does not want the park, with its field lights and its traffic, to have an impact on neighborhoods.

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 that the firm look at those developments because they already have public land set aside for parks.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said he had already talked to property owners who might be willing to donate land. He urged his colleagues to consider individuals willing to donate land on equal par with large developments that were required to set aside land.

Interested property owners should contact the county by Sept. 1, officials said.

"If someone has a site that sizzles, speak up," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri.

Commissioners have, with varying degrees of subtlety, pitched their districts as good potential locations.

Schrader acknowledged that tendency after Chairman Jack Mariano suggested that commissioners should forgo the consultant and hold a workshop on their preferred locations.

"It's hard not to be parochial on a project that comes once a term," Schrader said. But Sportsplex officials "don't know where the district lines are. … Let them do their job."

Under the contract, Sportsplex promises not to work on projects in surrounding counties, including Polk, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sumter.

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 should be available by the end of the fiscal year. That amount includes the $7.9 million that had been earmarked for the tennis stadium project near Saddlebrook, which officials scrapped this year.

Pasco moves forward with planned sports complex 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:25pm]
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