Pasco County commissioners decided they have enough balls in the air. While juggling interests from lacrosse tournaments in Wesley Chapel and softball players in Trinity, commissioners this week declined to add a third party to the mix: sports enthusiasts seeking to expand Arthur Engle Park into a potential tourist draw in Hudson.
Despite an endorsement from Commissioner Jack Mariano, the Hudson proposal was doomed by ill timing, its lack of specificity and the backers' inability to grasp state laws governing public resources.
They wanted an exclusive four-month window to negotiate with Pasco County to take county tourism money and impact fees and mix it with unspecified dollars from unidentified private-sector investors, to set up privately run but publicly owned sports fields and restaurant at the Denton Avenue park.
Such an arrangement would be illegal since state law requires governments to solicit so-called requests for proposals (RFPs) to determine who else might be interested managing the publicly owned facility. Sportsplex USA answered such a request and now is working with the county on the idea of turning 24 acres in Trinity into a softball complex. Likewise, commissioners have said they also will consider proposals to develop and operate an athletic venue near Saddlebrook Resort on 24 county-owned acres previously designated for a failed tennis stadium proposal.
That activity prompted two newly formed entities, Hudson Sports Complex and Pasco County Sports and Recreation Association, to seek another public-private venture to expand Arthur Engle Park onto county-owned land just west of the current park. Such an idea for Hudson would be a long shot under ideal circumstances because of its remote location, but its chances were lessened even more by the commission's earlier interest in developing sports sites in Trinity and Wesley Chapel to boost tourism.
Commissioners correctly noted the Hudson site lacks the urban density, available retailing services and close proximity to Tampa International Airport that pushed the Trinity location near State Road 54 to the top of the list for a softball complex.
No matter. Jeff Sylvan, a Hudson resident involved with the new groups, said the new park also could double as a secondary site for lacrosse tournaments in Wesley Chapel. That would be neat trick considering the Hudson park is 30 miles from Saddlebrook Resort, which also is touting itself as an auxiliary site for lacrosse.
In the coming months, commissioners will see multiple pitches for sharing $25 million to $30 million in tourist tax, impact fees and bond revenues. They must consider finalizing a working agreement with Sportsplex USA. Waiting on deck is a decision on whether an athletic venue near Saddlebrook is even doable.
Considering that lineup, the commission was correct to send this vague Hudson proposal back to the bench, if not to the showers.