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Sportsplex delay irks west Pasco softball league, others

Last June, the girls of west Pasco's oldest softball league showed up in force to a County Commission meeting. Their message? Let them use fields proposed for a 40-acre site near the future Sportsplex at Starkey Ranch.

"That's one of the reasons we supported Sportsplex," said Darlene Price, a board member of the West Pasco Girls Fast Pitch Softball Association Inc., which for years has shared two flood-prone fields with local football and cheerleading teams.

So Price said she was floored Wednesday to learn commissioners may be shying away from purchasing those 40 extra acres for local youth play, and are even contemplating scrapping the Sportsplex itself in favor of a much bigger proposed sports complex in Wesley Chapel.

"We'd be extremely upset," Price said. "The county has promised us fields forever and ever."

Commissioners on Tuesday decided to put the $12 million five-field Sportsplex project (also on 40 acres) on hold for about two months while they wait on more details of a newly revealed Wiregrass Ranch proposal for a mega complex with 32 ball fields and a 37-acre lake and wilderness area for boating and birding.

That proposal would be operated by a private group at no cost to the county, according to the Porter family, which owns Wiregrass. The family wants to use 40 acres set aside for a county park as part of that project and would like the county to pony up an undetermined amount of tourist tax money to help build the fields.

Some commissioners questioned whether they wanted to help finance two sports complex projects and wanted to see how the larger Wiregrass proposal panned out before signing off on Sportsplex.

They also cast doubt on their original intention of buying the additional 40 acres for youth play (five softball fields and seven soccer fields) at Starkey Ranch after receiving new estimates from county staff: a potential sales price of $1 million, fill expenses of $900,000 and the construction costs of more than $5 million.

Trey Starkey, whose family owns Starkey Ranch, said Wednesday that he had gotten no word from county staff that things were not proceeding. The county plans to finish up its appraisal work on the 40 extra acres in the next week or so.

"I don't know what to tell you. There's been nothing shown to us that would say, 'Hey this deal is dead,' " he said. "We're just waiting for (County Administrator John) Gallagher to call us back and say 'Let's go and hash it out.' We're waiting on that phone call."

Starkey said he understood the sentiment of not doing two projects at the same time. So does he think the one at Starkey Ranch should go first?

"You're asking a pot-stirring question, and I don't know if I want to go there," he said, noting that the long-planned Sportsplex project was debated all last year.

"We've beat this horse to death," he said. "It's hamburger already."

Wiregrass Ranch representatives gave another presentation to the Pasco Tourist Development Council on Wednesday.

J.D. Porter Jr. told council members that the project could mean overnight stays at nearby Saddlebrook Resort as well as two hotels proposed for the area.

Porter said the family had delivered on past promises for the Wiregrass area, including the proposed new hospital and college campus. He said they were now feeling more comfortable with the sports complex negotiations to go public.

"We obviously didn't want to come until we felt good," he said.

Not feeling so good: Price, the board member of the West Pasco softball girls league that wanted to use — and possibly manage — the extra 40 acres at Starkey Ranch.

She said the league began using two fields on Seven Springs Boulevard as a temporary measure until they could find a permanent home. That was 20 years ago.

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

Sportsplex delay irks west Pasco softball league, others 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 8:54pm]
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