Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco rejects Porter plan to operate Wiregrass sports fields

DADE CITY — They walked away from the bargaining table once when it came to managing a 20-field sports complex. Then they came back, with a proposal that county officials said was no different from the original.

Now the county has shut the door on the Porter family's second offer to use $14 million in tourism taxes to design, build and operate the proposed park on 160 acres of its former cattle ranch.

County purchasing director Scott Stromer said it would be unfair to other companies that passed on the bid to manage the proposed Fields at Wiregrass.

"We recommend that you reject this bid as non-responsive," he said.

He reiterated the same thoughts expressed in a memo last week that stated: "The Purchasing Department is very concerned about the precedent that may be established by allowing an offeror to terminate negotiations, which resulted from a formal competitive process; only to have that same firm submit a similar proposal in response to a new solicitation for similar services."

Instead, county officials opted to open talks with the only other bidder, Blue Marble Strategic, a Tampa company founded by James Talton whose background is in the hotel and resort business.

Blue Marble's offer asked for only $5 million to $6 million of the tourism taxes, with the rest coming from private sources. In return, Blue Marble is seeking a long-term lease of the property.

"The current budget ($14 million) is not sufficient to build a facility to meet Pasco County's objectives," Blue Marble's proposal said. "In order for Pasco County to meet its objectives of becoming a national and possibly international sports destination 'supporting tourism,' generating over 7,000 room nights, over $7 million in economic impact, and revenues to the county in excess of $1.2 million, it should consider a different proposal that minimizes costs to the county and mitigates the risk of constructing an unprofitable commoditized product."

At Stromer's recommendation, commissioners agreed to postpone hearing proposals from seven firms to design the proposed park until they determine the validity of Blue Marble's offer to build and operate it.

J.D. Porter, manager of the Wiregrass property, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The family's land use attorney, Bill Merrill, said neither he nor the family was present so he could not yet comment on the matter.

The Porters' proposal, which included the Diamond Nation LLC and Turf Solutions Group LLC, called for using the $14 million and overseeing design, construction and operations of the park, which would be owned by the county.

Stromer said the proposal contained "essentially" the same terms that Wiregrass Sports, the Porter family's company, had rejected a few months ago.

Because of that, Stromer wrote, "the purchasing department finds it unreasonable to expect the same firm will accept terms that were recently rejected."

The Porters' and the county's negotiations over the deal had been tense for nearly a year.

The Porter family originally agreed to operate the park, but that broke down during negotiations over an operations and maintenance agreement. Among the hang-ups: The county asked for 8 percent of the profits, but the Porters thought that was too greedy.

Talks were on a low boil for months but burst into the open in September when Porter attorney Merrill told an assistant county attorney that the county might have to find a new company to run the park if it stuck to its version of the operation agreement.

But in the end, the hurdles were overcome, with the Porters essentially donating the land and $1 million worth of fill dirt in November. The deal still has not closed, however, and was a reason that tourism officials and commissioners cited in postponing any decision to increase the 2 percent tourism tax, which is the lowest levy in the Tampa Bay area.

Comments
Waffle House slaying suspect arrested after massive manhunt

Waffle House slaying suspect arrested after massive manhunt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The mentally unstable gunman suspected of killing four people in a late-night shooting at a Waffle House restaurant was arrested near his apartment Monday after hiding from police for more than a day, authorities said. Police and f...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Brooke Blankenship and Luca Tresh

HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Brooke Blankenship and Luca Tresh

Brooke Blankenship, Academy at the LakesAcademy at the Lakes knew it would be difficult to manufacture runs during last week's anticipated matchup with Land O'Lakes and Gators ace Callie Turner.So the Wildcats decided to steal a run.This wasn't any h...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa marks the start of construction Tuesday on its first building, the posh JW Marriott hotel, but there’s a lot more to come.And soon.Within a year, developers said Monday, construction should be underway on 10 — 10! — of Wate...
Updated: 1 hour ago
In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

In search for stolen car, the baby inside was the calmest one

ST. PETERSBURG — Photojournalist Michael Egger pulled into the apartment complex off 71st Avenue N on Monday afternoon, waiting for reporter Mark Douglas. The two WFLA-Ch. 8 journalists were looking for someone — they wouldn’t say who — when they fou...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

Sears in Clearwater’s Countryside Mall to close in mid-July

CLEARWATER — The Westfield Countryside Mall Sears will close in mid-July as part of Sears Holdings’ latest store cuts, bringing the number of shuttering Kmarts and Sears to nearly 200.The store’s liquidation sale will begin on Friday, according to Se...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

TAMPA — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a missing child alert on Monday for the 1-month-old son of an Illinois couple who fled to Tampa after losing custody of two other children. Newborn Sage Cooper was last seen Friday at a home on...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The key to the Lightning’s success

The key to the Lightning’s success

This is quite the run the Lightning is on over the past five years.A playoff appearance in 2014. A trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2015. A return to the Eastern Conference final in 2016. A near-miss of the postseason last season. And now back in the...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

Foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa draws praise, criticism at penalty hearing

CLEARWATER — Homeowners from as far away as Texas and North Carolina crowded a Pinellas County courtroom Monday in support of embattled foreclosure defense attorney Mark Stopa. Facing possible disbarment for professional misconduct, Stopa also drew s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

Tampa workers accuse General Dynamics unit of underpaying

TAMPA — The Tampa call center of a federal contractor is being accused of underpaying its employees. Workers for General Dynamics Information Technology filed wage theft complaints with the Department of Labor Monday, calling for an investigation int...
Updated: 2 hours ago