ARIPEKA — The long-awaited SunWest Park is expected to hit two milestones in coming weeks as county commissioners get ready to pick a contractor and near a deal for a wakeboarding ride there.
Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said contractors' bids to build the park are set to be opened Thursday with commissioners voting to select one possibly by March 26 or in April.
Additionally, wakeboard operator Patrick Panakos was set to meet with administrative staff this week to discuss a contract to run a facility at SunWest.
The ride would be the park's centerpiece. Pasco officials are hoping Panakos also agrees to oversee the park's daily operations.
"It's really moving along," Mariano said. "We have two big things coming up."
He said the deal with Panakos is inching closer and that once staff agrees, it will come to commissioners for approval, possibly within weeks. The park would open this summer.
Wakeboarding is gaining popularity in Florida with facilities in Orlando, Seffner, North Fort Myers and Deerfield Beach.
The sport is like water skiing but uses a stationary mechanical device with cables to pull riders through the water. Panakos and other investors would install the equipment at their own expense.
In addition to wakeboarding, the park would include a beach and lake, snack bar, walking trails, 500 parking spaces, 40 beach volleyball courts and cabanas or tiki huts. The Department of Environmental Protection formally signed off on the idea a couple of weeks ago.
Mariano said that long-term he envisions restaurants, gift shops and possibly a hotel.
The project has progressed slowly in the past year.
In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a permit application by Pasco to dredge an old channel to the Gulf of Mexico after environmentalists objected. Officials had hoped to install a boat launch next to the park. They're appealing the decision.
In January, the project hit another snag when only one qualifying bid for the work came in — and it was $2 million over budget. Officials rejected the bid and set out to seek new bidders.
They caught a break when developer Gary Grubbs, who is seeking to build a luxury home and resort development nearby, volunteered to grade areas around the park, lowering the project's overall costs by about $1 million. It was initially budgeted at $4.5 million.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.