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Porter family pitches land swap with Pasco for events center

DADE CITY — When Pasco officials began discussing a proposed tourist tax-funded events center in Wesley Chapel, they acknowledged a key problem about the county-owned site they had picked out for it:

It has no roads to it — except through the private gates of Saddlebrook Resort. And Saddlebrook officials, who originally pitched the idea for an events center that could host lacrosse tournaments and professional soccer exhibition games, aren't keen on the latest proposed agreement that would govern when the public could use their roads to access the site.

Now the Porter family, who donated that site as part of their Wiregrass development, has pitched an alternative that could solve the access problem: The county could instead have 40 acres near State Road 56, adjacent to a spot where the family is hoping a private company will built an ice hockey sports complex.

The Porters and their representatives met late Tuesday afternoon with County Administrator John Gallagher after the County Commission meeting. Commissioners had been scheduled to discuss putting out a request for proposals for their events center, but delayed the discussion after learning that the Porters had asked to meet with Gallagher.

Gallagher said after the meeting that the proposal, which he hopes to get in writing this week, would essentially involve a land swap. (The county already has the deed to the original 40-acre site, where a failed tennis complex was to have gone.)

He said the Porter family agreed to give the county enough right of way to allow access to the new proposed site, which is near Mansfield Boulevard and State Road 56. Offices and multifamily are the current uses proposed for that land.

As the Pasco Times reported in March, at least two different sets of investors have pitched ideas for hockey arenas in the Wesley Chapel area.

One of them, G. Vallee Bain, was promoting a concept called "the Plex," a 470,000-square-foot arena with three ice hockey rinks, a 36-lane bowling alley, miniature golf, laser tag, indoor water park, five restaurants and a 140-room hotel.

His former partner, Clearwater tire dealer Patrick DeLorenzo, told the Times he had plans to build a smaller, more hockey-focused facility near Wiregrass.

After the private meeting with Gallagher on Tuesday, the Porters and their attorney declined to name the private outfit that is hoping to buy the nearby 100-acre property and build the hockey complex. They said they've been negotiating with the potential buyer for about six weeks.

What would the Porters get out of the swap? William Merrill, a Sarasota attorney representing the Porters, said in an interview Tuesday that it makes good business sense to cluster the county project near the proposed private hockey center and closer to the Shoppes at Wiregrass.

"It's better planned and more synergistically located," Merrill said.

Gallagher said the Porters told him that the land swap is not contingent on the hoped-for private hockey project coming to fruition.

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

Porter family pitches land swap with Pasco for events center 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 8:46pm]

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