Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Saddlebrook owner pitches idea for lacrosse fields at former tennis stadium site

Saddlebrook is back with a plan for a multi-field lacrosse complex on property that was once envisioned as a national tennis center.

In a letter to County Administrator John Gallagher, resort owner Tom Dempsey said the company "is interested in contributing to the development, construction, management and maintenance" of a 10-field facility on 40 acres of county land just south of the resort.

At a commission meeting Tuesday, the offer at first sounded like an ideal solution to cementing a long-term relationship with the Dick's Sporting Goods national lacrosse tournament. Pasco's largest sporting event generated an estimated $3 million of economic impact last year.

As part of a new agreement with the tournament, the county promised to commit to building new fields in the Wesley Chapel area within two years.

"I don't see any problem with having 10 fields there and then having another 10 fields down the road," said Commissioner Jack Mariano, referring to a separate proposal at Wiregrass by the Porter family. "One doesn't preclude the other."

Mariano said events could use existing parking at the resort and that owners would allow tournament-related traffic to use internal roads to access the site.

But commissioners backed off the idea for now after they realized it could jeopardize talks with the Porters, who want to build a 120-acre complex in the heart of the development near the Shops at Wiregrass and the future Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel.

"This opens up a Pandora's Box that wasn't able to be solved however many years ago," J.D. Porter told the Times.

Porter was referring to nearly a decade of stalled talks on the 40-acre parcel by Saddlebrook. For seven years, the county wanted to build a tennis center there, but the idea was shelved in 2009. The next year, Dempsey offered to build lacrosse and soccer fields on the land as an alternative to the proposed Sportsplex softball facility near Odessa. That idea — along with Sportsplex — also died.

Last fall, the county re-started negotiations by soliciting bids from anyone interested in running a tourist park on county land as part of a public-private partnership. There were two bids: one from the Porters and another for a wakeboard park at the SunWest site in Aripeka.

Entertaining the Saddlebrook idea while those bids are still open, Porter said, "really makes a mockery out of the process that they've relied on."

County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder added: "You didn't bid that site out. Saddlebrook can't just decide it's going to (operate a facility) at that site without any sort of competitive process."

Commissioner Ted Schrader said talks with the resort would be unfair to the Porter family, who he said have been negotiating in good faith for months.

"I don't see how we can backtrack from that until we've ended negotiations with them," Schrader said. "I think you've got to exhaust the discussion with the Porters."

There are a few logistical problems. The Porters' offer includes swapping the county's 40 acres near the resort with an equal amount of land in the middle of Wiregrass. Building fields on the original site would muck up the land swap.

Another issue is that a park in the central portion of the development was included in the agreement with Raymond James Financial to build two 100,000 square-foot office towers at the site. If the park goes away, the county would have to revisit its agreement with Raymond James.

Gallagher is meeting with the Porters on Wednesday. He suggested building an initial phase of the project with $8.5 million in tourism tax money and sales taxes. That would pay for 11 fields that could be used for lacrosse, soccer or football. Two fields would be artificial turf and would be available to the public. The other fields would be natural grass and used mainly for tournaments.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, commissioners gave the family a 60-day deadline to reach an agreement on the project. Gallagher said that would keep negotiations from languishing like the tennis center and Sportsplex.

"I've got no issues with that," Porter said of the deadline. "We feel like we've gotten through a majority of the stuff."

Porter said he is fine with building the first phase of the project "to get the ball rolling to solve the immediate crisis" of keeping the lacrosse tournament.

"We should also allow this thing to mature into the overall plan that we presented earlier," he said.

Mariano said disputes over whether the county would own the land under the park could doom the project. If the 60 days pass without a deal, he wants to go after the Saddlebrook land. "It's the faster one to put together," he said.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

Comments

Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state’s coast.Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours a...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

Now that the fight against the largely defeated Islamic State is winding down, the U.S. Air Force is turning its efforts toward the Taliban and moving aircraft and crews to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.Crews and a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refue...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
More teacher protests and another charter school approval expected at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting

More teacher protests and another charter school approval expected at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting

TAMPA — This will seem familiar: Teachers are mobilizing to protest outside Tuesday’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting about their frozen pay rates.And this too: A vote is expected on a new charter school.Florida Connections Academy is a virt...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, dies at 96

Naomi Parker Fraley, the real Rosie the Riveter, dies at 96

Unsung for seven decades, the real Rosie the Riveter was a California waitress named Naomi Parker Fraley.Over the years, a welter of American women have been identified as the model for Rosie, the war worker of 1940s popular culture who became a femi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bill Cosby jokes in 1st show since 2015 he ‘used to be’ comedian

Bill Cosby jokes in 1st show since 2015 he ‘used to be’ comedian

PHILADELPHIA — Bill Cosby performed in public for the first time since a sex abuse scandal embroiled him in 2015, joking that he "used to be a comedian" and playing with a jazz band in his hometown as a retrial looms in his criminal sexual assault ca...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Seminole Heights suspect could face death penalty; soggy commute across Tampa Bay; Oscar nominations released today; Lightning shut out Blackhawks

The Daystarter: Seminole Heights suspect could face death penalty; soggy commute across Tampa Bay; Oscar nominations released today; Lightning shut out Blackhawks

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• Those Monday evening showers could linger to saturate Tuesday morning’s commute, according to 10Weather WTSP. They’ll move out by the afternoon as a cool — not quite a cold —...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: Morning rain leads to clearing skies, comfortable conditions for Tampa Bay

Forecast: Morning rain leads to clearing skies, comfortable conditions for Tampa Bay

A gray, wet morning commute will lead to more sunshine as a cold front approaches Tampa Bay on Tuesday.[WTSP]Check the latest Tampa Bay-area live radar: The showers are moving in off the Gulf of Mexico, especially affecting early-morning motorists i...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Neil Diamond says he has Parkinson’s, retires from touring

Neil Diamond says he has Parkinson’s, retires from touring

NEW YORK — Neil Diamond is retiring from touring after he says he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who turns 77 on Wednesday, is canceling his tour dates in Australia and New Zealand for March. He was on his 50...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Today: Death penalty decision coming in Seminole Heights murders

Today: Death penalty decision coming in Seminole Heights murders

TAMPA — Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren is set to announce Tuesday whether he intends to seek the death penalty for the 24-year-old man accused of killing four people southeast Seminole Heights last year. Warren scheduled a 10:30 a.m...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Romano: Once again, state education leaders fail this simple test

Want to annoy an education leader in Florida?Tell them they’ve turned your child’s school into an assembly line of tiny test takers. Tell them innovation and imagination and excitement are rapidly disappearing in favor of teaching to the test.And whe...
Updated: 11 hours ago