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Trinity wrong spot for Pasco sports complex, Jack Mariano says

TRINITY — As the rain tapered off Friday afternoon, Commissioner Jack Mariano was looking out from his car at the county property where officials are planning to build a multisports complex.

Water was building up everywhere, he said, cutting right through the park property. "Isn't that crazy?" he said.

Add flooding to the list of criticisms from Mariano, who has been waging a one-commissioner battle against the proposed complex, which would feature four or five softball fields and a restaurant on 40 acres off Trinity Boulevard.

His more general criticisms: The project is too small, it's in the wrong location and it would benefit the company that wants to run it more than the county.

The proposal returns to Pasco commissioners on Tuesday when they will consider staff's recommendation on how to fund the $12 million facility.

The staff's proposed formula: $3.4 million from tourist taxes, $3.8 million from park impact fees for the west zone and $4.7 million from a half-cent sales tax bond issue.

If the county decides to buy additional nearby land for $1 million, officials say, the funding should come from the bond money ($351,442) and the park impact fees ($648,558).

Sportsplex USA, the California-based consultant that is negotiating with county officials to operate the facility, has recommended that evening weekday play be aimed at local adult softball leagues, freeing up fields at other parks for youth sports. Weekends would be devoted to tournaments designed to attract visitors.

After the sports complex is built, the staff recommendation says, Pasco could use $2 million in park impact fees to replace softball fields at nearby Mitchell Park on Little Road with additional soccer fields. Another $400,000 would go toward expanding the Mitchell Park concession stands.

Don't expect Mariano to support the proposed funding formula. He doesn't like using either park impact fee money for Sportsplex — "When … you don't make (the park) available to (local) children, I think people are going to have problems with it," he said — or tourism money.

"You've got a complex that's not going to generate any hotel stays," he said.

(Sportsplex representatives would disagree: They say they have talked to tournament directors interested in bringing events that would attract players from around the state.)

So why does he think the four other commissioners have come to different conclusions about the overall project?

Mariano said he's got a long history with sports in the county.

"They haven't sat in the workshops. They haven't talked to as many people as I have. They haven't got kids playing sports. I'm living it and seeing it," he said.

But he's got a new angle. He's pushing for the Starkey Ranch site, the runner-up site in Sportsplex USA's ranking.

Why now? Basically, he learned that part of the original half-cent sales tax bond issue covered the cost of fill in developing the Starkey property.

The cost of prepping that site for development is what pushed the Trinity property to the top of the list. It's essentially ready to go, officials have said.

Mariano doesn't think the other costs of developing the Starkey land are insurmountable and sees the site as big enough to accommodate a 10-field setup that could generate larger tournaments. He noted that a 16-field sports complex was recently approved in the Gainesville area.

(Commissioner Ann Hildebrand has also suggested the Starkey site would be a better fit than the Trinity location and a "purer" use of park impact fee dollars, but she voted with the other commissioners on the Trinity site to keep the project moving.)

Mariano has previously faced criticism that his main goal has been to try to get the project in Engle Park in Hudson, which is in his district. He was even working with a group of Hudson residents trying to get a complex built at Engle.

If he hadn't come to believe the fill costs at Starkey might make a difference? "I'd probably be at Engle again," he said. "This (Trinity) site can't do it."

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

Trinity wrong spot for Pasco sports complex, Jack Mariano says 03/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 8:34pm]

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