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Starkey site drops out of the running for new Pasco park

NEW PORT RICHEY — County commissioners received a pair of proposals Tuesday for a new multipurpose sports complex. A new park is likely months away at the earliest, but one thing is clear — it won't be located at Starkey Ranch.

That marks an abrupt change from a year ago, when the county was close to inking a deal with Sportsplex USA for a collection of softball fields on 40 acres in the planned development near Odessa.

"There's a big hole with not having anything in that site," said commission chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. She said the site is still ideally located and would be a good candidate for a project sometime in the future.

Proposals were submitted for a park in the Wiregrass area of Wesley Chapel, where developers have been talking about a 160-acre ballfield complex, and for a wakeboard park at the old SunWest mine site in Aripeka, nestled against the planned mega-development. By law, details of the proposals will be sealed for 30 days.

Each of the parks would be built partially using taxpayer money but would be run by a private entity. The county has several million dollars in construction money socked away for parks, but it is hurting for cash for daily operations.

Commissioner Jack Mariano, a major supporter of the SunWest site and a critic of the Sportsplex deal, said the county might be able to build two parks.

"I don't see Wiregrass as competing with SunWest Park," he said. "I don't see a battle going on here, a competitive thing."

He said SunWest "can be the face of tourist development" in Pasco because it would provide beach views in a county with few beaches.

Hildebrand acknowledged SunWest's clear blue lakes but warned there's a "long laundry list" of things that have to happen before the park is done. She also worried whether the site in faraway north Pasco could attract tourists as well as Wiregrass, which could draw from New Tampa.

But perhaps the biggest surprise Tuesday was the lack of a proposal for the Starkey area.

"They worked hard at it, but it just couldn't all come together," said Trey Starkey, whose family owns the land where the park would have been built. He said an outside group, not his family, was working on the project. Planners had envisioned a mix of county-owned baseball and soccer fields next to a private recreation center, skate park and cycling track.

Starkey lamented that the county hasn't finalized a major sports park after several years of trying.

"It's just not getting across the finish line," he said. "It's just a frustrating thing on so many levels."

Former county commissioner Michael Cox was helping the team that was organizing the Starkey proposal. They decided late Monday not to submit a bid. Cox said there were more "moving parts" at that location. The county owns the land at SunWest, and the Porter family is working closely with developers at Wiregrass, making the process smoother at both sites. There is also more development activity at the Wesley Chapel location.

"The stars just didn't align," Cox said. "Other locations don't have all the issues that the Starkey location has."

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Starkey site drops out of the running for new Pasco park 10/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 9:58pm]
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