Pasco County plans to swap grown-up softball for youth soccer. It is a plausible by-product of the deal to develop a tournament-caliber softball complex for adult use in Trinity. Under the scenario approved by commissioners last week, the county will spend $2 million to add more soccer fields for children at nearby J.W. Mitchell Park after the $12 million softball project is up and running.
Commissioner Jack Mariano says this is unfair to the kids. We fail to follow his logic, as we have through much of the public debate over the past several months that has been heavy on his parochialism and light on suggesting reasonable alternatives.
Mariano's latest unsuccessful pitch was to move the proposed softball complex — five fields, a restaurant/pub and additional amenities to be operated and maintained by a private company — from county-owned property in Trinity to the planned Starkey Ranch development on the north side of State Road 54 near Odessa.
Mariano argued this will allow for more fields, larger tournaments and more overnight visitors. Except it is a budget buster and ripe for promoting delays. Pasco would need to acquire additional land from the Starkeys, buy fill dirt and build an access road. Staying at Trinity is much more sensible.
Using a mix of tourism dollars, impact fees and proceeds from a previous bond sale, the county plans to build the softball fields in Trinity and move the 45 teams (conservatively, that is 450 players) now playing recreational league games at Mitchell to the new facility for weeknight play. Weekends will be reserved for tournaments. Pasco will then refurbish the Mitchell park to turn the three softball diamonds there into soccer pitches for the 1,200 children participating in the West Pasco Futbol Club, which now uses fields at Mitchell and at the Holiday Recreation Center.
The arrangement opens more field space for west Pasco's youths and adults, brings a tourist attraction to the county, and leaves millions of dollars in the tourism capital account to finance a second sports-tourism project in the near future.
There are plenty of details to be worked out, including a final design and an operating agreement between the county and Sportsplex USA, the vendor with which the county is negotiating. That is key and the point at which prior plans for a sports-tourism project — a tennis stadium near Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel — fell apart.
With a location and financing selected, the task for the county now is to become a legitimate teammate with the private sector.