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Talks about new sports complex breaking down

A proposal to build a park with replica pro baseball stadiums in Pasco County has foundered over costs, and top county officials plan to begin talks with another sports complex developer.

But Pat Kight, consultant for replica stadium company Big League Dreams of California, said Tuesday that if the county negotiates with another firm, his company will cease talks with Pasco.

The County Commission on Tuesday will be asked to allow negotiations with Sportsplex USA, a California company that runs one large sports complex and is developing others. It doesn't build replica fields — the factor that left it the bridesmaid to Big League Dreams in May.

"If they want to go talk to Sportsplex and do a lesser park, that's their prerogative. But quite honestly, I'm not going to be spending my time on it," said Kight, noting the company had agreed not to negotiate with other communities nearby.

The replica stadium complex is supposed to offer eye-catching fields for leagues, large tournaments and corporate outings. It would cost roughly $25-million to $35-million to build. The county would use its tourism tax, impact fees on new construction and bonds to pay for it, though some officials have said the total cost could strain Pasco's means.

With property taxes declining, Pasco wants a private company to operate the park, using revenue from admission fees and food concessions. Big League Dreams runs nine replica field complexes of various sizes nationally — some built at a cost higher than expected.

The first step toward a Pasco deal, however — agreeing to study where and how to build the complex — has taken longer than expected, Kight said.

Kight expected the board to vote Dec. 2 on the proposed study, which would cost Pasco $90,000, and said he knew nothing of the county's plan to talk with Sportsplex.

But chief assistant county administrator Michele Baker said the county wasn't comfortable spending that amount, although officials haven't ruled out Big League Dreams, either. On Tuesday morning, she said, she broke that news to Kight — but she didn't mention the competitor's re-emergence before the Times contacted him.

Commissioner Michael Cox, the replica fields' original advocate, backed renewing talks with Sportsplex because it would give Pasco more bargaining power.

In particular, Cox said the fees for Big League Dreams seem too high — starting with the $90,000 fee for the 90-day study.

"We're not saying no to them. That's not what we're saying at all," Baker said. "But in today's economy we have to figure out a way to do the feasibility without spending a lot of money on the feasibility study."

For its more expensive complex, Big League Dreams has asked for a $750,000 fee to manage it and $400,000 in licensing charges.

By comparison, Sportsplex has asked for $350,000 to oversee a less expensive complex. A construction cost estimate hasn't been prepared for a Pasco model yet, although county officials expect it to be less expensive.

Company president Bill Berghoff, who learned of Pasco's renewed interest in early November, said Sportsplex can run complexes more efficiently without higher construction costs.

"I'm convinced their business model won't generate one extra nickel of revenue," Berghoff said of Big League Dreams, "and we'll save the county millions of dollars."

Since May, Pasco officials said they wanted to pay Big League Dreams less that it proposed — and held open the option of talks with Sportsplex if plans with Big League Dreams went off kilter. But Kight said little has been discussed involving the project's price or details.

"We've never gotten that far," Kight said, noting the county has only sent two staff members to secretly visit other replica fields in July.

"They're just not taking the time to do what I consider the due diligence."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Talks about new sports complex breaking down 11/18/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 7:42pm]
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