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Pasco sporting complex at Wiregrass hits major snag

DADE CITY — The multimillion-dollar sports complex in Wesley Chapel's Wiregrass development has hit a major snag.

A lawyer for the family that owns the development on Monday proposed a radically different deal on the privately operated multifield park that commissioners had pledged $14 million to build.

According to Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein, Wiregrass lawyer Bill Merrill said the family would donate land for the project if the county remained committed to spending that money to build the park. Pasco would then have to find a separate company to construct and operate it.

Wiregrass officials would no longer have any responsibility for the facility design and operations.

County Administrator John Gallagher said the offer is a major change from what commissioners had sought — a tourism facility built by the county and run by an outside group.

"That's not what we sent out a request for proposals for," he said. "We as a staff need to sit down and see what options the board has."

Gallagher said he sent the Wiregrass officials a proposed contract for the park several weeks ago, asking for comments. He said this week's counteroffer was the first time he's heard back.

J.D. Porter, whose family owns the surrounding Wiregrass development, did not return a phone message late Tuesday.

The news is the latest in a series of disappointments as the county tries to spend millions in hotel taxes on a tourism facility. Of the $14 million pledged for the Wiregrass park, $11.5 million was tourist taxes that had been accumulating since 1991. The other $2.5 million is sales tax bond proceeds.

Previous ideas, such as a tennis stadium near Saddlebrook or a Sportsplex softball facility near Odessa, never came to fruition.

In April, commissioners approved the plans for the 200-acre Fields at Wiregrass, which would have eight baseball and softball fields and a dozen multipurpose fields for soccer or lacrosse. County officials then began negotiating with the Porter family to write an operation and maintenance agreement for the complex.

It's hard to say at this point whether the negotiations have officially been reset. "We won't know until we get more information in writing," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.

But if the plan falls apart, it would throw several major issues into flux. The county would have to find a new use for the tourism money. It would have to find a new plan for a district park that is promised under the Wiregrass development plan.

It would also have to satisfy an economic development agreement with Raymond James Financial, which has plans for an expansion at Wiregrass. That agreement envisioned a major park located next door to the expansion.

The plan was also seen as a way to keep the national lacrosse tournament known as the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions. After it received a competing offer from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, the event recently signed a new four-year agreement with Pasco.

But that contract also says Pasco will add more lacrosse fields in the Wesley Chapel area in two years.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Porter family that owns the Wiregrass development in Wesley Chapel is committed to donating enough land for a new multifield sports park, as long as Pasco commits to spend $14 million to build the park. The original story misstated how the money would be spent.

Pasco sporting complex at Wiregrass hits major snag 09/11/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 4:46pm]
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