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Mariano off-base in Pasco sports complex idea

Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano sure has a short memory. Just five weeks ago he and the commission approved a budget that cut 37 positions from the Parks and Recreation Department. The results, coupled with previous cuts, are: Shorter operating hours at recreation centers; closing two swimming pools; requiring sports leagues to line their own fields and police areas for trash, and relying on roving crews to rotate among multiple parks for maintenance and other chores.

Amid that constrained budget, Mariano now states a belief that Pasco County government can entrust volunteers to operate and maintain a proposed multimillion-dollar sports complex intended to draw tourists to Pasco and to offer alternative weekday playing sites for local amateur athletes.

Mariano floated the scenario Tuesday afternoon after citing supposed sentiment from the Florida Sports Foundation that mirrored the commissioner's own concerns about Sportsplex USA. Pasco County hired that California company in August to recommend a site and design for the sports facility. The foundation's misgivings, however, were premature as president Larry Pendleton stated in a second e-mail to the county.

Tuesday, Mariano said he believed the county should go it alone without Sportsplex USA managing the facility. Sports leagues can handle the chore, he suggested. It's a simplistic and ill-timed notion that fails to account for the amount of personnel needed to maintain the facility, to operate the concession/restaurant which is key to the bottom line, and to promote its availability to attract out-of-county teams to weekend tournaments. That is the heads-in-bed factor that must be met to justify using tourist tax dollars to build the complex. It's also a debate for a later date considering picking a location and figuring out the needed amenities remain in the preliminary stages.

No construction schedule has been established. No cost estimate provided. No operating agreement considered. No matter. Mariano shared his unrealistic expectation with commissioners Tuesday, saying a public records request from this newspaper forced his hand. More realistically, this is a parochial ploy to put the proposed sportsplex in Mariano's district.

Mariano pushed similar sentiment in August when he and the commission unanimously voted to hire Sportsplex USA. At the time, Mariano touted the improvements to Arthur Engle Park off Denton Avenue in Hudson, but company representatives said the multi-use complex likely would need to be near Interstate 75 or the Suncoast Parkway to be successful. Whatever the final location, the idea of public-private partnership shouldn't be abandoned.

The county's Parks And Recreation Department already is stressed operating and maintaining its current inventory of parks. Substantial tourist development dollars that will be tapped to build the complex aren't expected to be available to help maintain it.

That is a key rationalization for hiring a private contractor to handle operation and maintenance and it proved to be the deal-breaker to the now scrapped plan to build a tennis stadium near the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel.

The county, in the post Amendment 1 budget realities, cannot assume the risk of having to subsidize overhead costs for a tourist attraction. Mariano shouldn't be so willing to do just that simply to satisfy his own parochialism.

Mariano off-base in Pasco sports complex idea 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 8:51pm]
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