Pasco County is poised to spend tourism promotion dollars to benefit out-of-county hotels. That is the upshot of an illogical tactic to lure a national rugby competition to central Pasco concurrent with lacrosse tournament that already fills area hotels to capacity.
A split Tourist Development Council agreed on a 5-3 vote Wednesday to a $22,500 sponsorship agreement with NDP Rugby for a 52-team club rugby tournament at the Land O' Lakes Recreational Center on Dec. 29-31. NDP also is the promoter of the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament that will be held simultaneously in Wesley Chapel.
Central and east Pasco do not have sufficient hotels to accommodate the influx of visitors for both tournaments. The county has just 3,000 hotel rooms and all of the motels in the Wesley Chapel area were filled to capacity during the recent lacrosse tournament. Even a west Pasco motel on U.S. 19 reported being sold out despite its location 28 miles from the playing fields. Adding a simultaneous rugby competition, needing a projected 624 rooms, means a likely boost for hotels and motels in northern Hillsborough and Tampa. Some hotels on East Fowler Avenue, for instance, are just 11 miles from the ruby fields on Collier Parkway in Land O' Lakes.
TDC Chairman Ted Schrader, the only county commissioner on the council, supported the plan saying the county shouldn't forfeit the opportunity to be on the ground floor with a competition that is expected to grow in popularity because of its inclusion as an Olympic sport in 2016.
More appropriately, the county should insist the promoter change the date or location of the tournament. NDP wants seven fields on a single site and rejected the idea of using the fields at J.W. Mitchell Park, Mitchell High School and at the county recreation center in Holiday. However, its lacrosse tournament is now held on more than one site in Wesley Chapel, so the multiple fields in west Pasco shouldn't be a deal-breaker for rugby. Failing that, the county should require the organization to move the date of tournament in Land O' Lakes to avoid a conflict with the lacrosse competition.
The county tourist tax is intended to promote local tourist attractions and to lure overnight visitors to the county. Sponsoring a sports tournament in which the competitors will have little choice but to stay in other locales makes little sense.
The full county commission still must authorize this sponsorship agreement. Commissioners, particularly those supporting an increase in the tourist tax rate, should try to be better stewards of this public money than the TDC majority.