County to enter talks with ballfield builder

DADE CITY — The County Commission decided to step up to the plate Tuesday for a Pasco park of replica iconic baseball fields. Now it's just waiting for the right pitch.

The board voted 5-0 to begin negotiations with Big League Dreams of California, which operates complexes with scaled-down versions of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and Yankee Stadium in New York. If a deal is reached, the proposal would come back to the County Commission for approval.

A committee of top county officials endorsed the idea in May after reviewing the company's resume. It would be the first such park by the company in Florida, though it is looking into other places.

Property tax dollars to run a park are scarce these days. So the county is seeking a deal in which Pasco would pay to build the 40-acre site, but Big League Dreams would operate it, hosting youth and adult events and making money off concessions and alcohol sales. Pasco would get a cut of profits.

County officials anticipate tapping sales taxes, tourism taxes and impact fees on new construction to build the site, estimated at a cost of $20-million to $35-million. Besides ballfields, the park also would have soccer fields and indoor sports. Possible locations are Trinity and Wesley Chapel.

The county gave the nod to Big League Dreams over another California company, Sportsplex USA, whose park project would not include eye-catching replica fields. But pairing with Big League Dreams would cost $1.2-million to Sportsplex's $350,000 fee.

An economic impact study also is in the works, as are town meetings.

While money is scarce and a major tennis stadium already is approved, the rest of the board backed the pursuit — but not without questioning whether the complex would work.

"If you haven't yet identified the site, how can you do a real true analysis relative to the benefits of Pasco County?" Commission Chairman Ted Schrader asked.

But Commissioners Michael Cox and Jack Mariano, the main proponents, said the county and company could mandate in contracts that teams in tournaments stay in Pasco hotels, boosting the tourism tax on hotel stays.

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

County to enter talks with ballfield builder 06/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6:33pm]

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