Pasco County is about to throw a curve ball to a private company seeking to operate publicly financed sports fields for both youth and adult athletes. On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners will be asked to tell Big League Dreams of California that it isn't the only potential partner in a public-private partnership. County staffers want permission to begin talks with a second company, Sportsplex USA, also of California.
It is a ploy used successfully two decades ago by County Administrator John Gallagher when he negotiated simultaneously with two companies seeking to build and operate the trash incinerator in Shady Hills. Playing one against the other knocked $16-million off the original bids.
Cost is again the motive in the quest to devise an out-of-the-ordinary sports complex to serve local residents and to act as a potential tourist draw by luring out-of-towners here for tournament play.
Big League Dreams, which has been the preferred vendor and exclusive negotiating partner, builds ballfields modeled after historic major league stadiums like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Its project has a presumed price tag of roughly $30-million, though no feasibility study has been done. That is one of the hang ups. Big League Dreams wants $90,000 to do the study plus licensing and management fees of more than $1-million for its most elaborate complex that features baseball, softball and soccer fields. (Sportsplex submitted a proposal to the county in the summer to oversee a less elaborate complex for fewer dollars. No construction costs have been calculated.)
The extravagance is being met head on by the economy. Since Pasco resurrected this idea in 2007, the Legislature capped local government spending, voters approved new property tax exemptions and impact fees to the county deflated when new home construction did likewise.
Tourism revenues, however, are at an all-time high. A mix of tourist dollars and impact fees are expected to finance the construction with operating expenses handled by the private sector.
Commissioners on Tuesday should heed the staff recommendation. Their big league dreams may have to stay at the minor-league level, given declining government revenue.
More importantly, commissioners will get a chance to find out just how competitive are the companies that want to cater to the region's competitive athletes. If they play the game right, the real winners will be the public purse.