More than 30 years ago, an indecisive County Commission appeased constituents on both sides of Pasco County by building exact replicas of the same courthouse — one in Dade City and the other off Little Road in west Pasco to house courtrooms, commission chambers and office space for court officers and county administrators.
It meant duplicate costs and an under-utilized facility in Dade City, but an end to fears that government somehow meant to abandon east Pasco and move its county seat designation to New Port Richey.
A suggestion this week from Commissioner Ted Schrader shows that three decades later that parochialism has not diminished even though the opposite sides of Pasco have grown closer together via a better east-west road network and rapid development in the center of the county.
Schrader, whose district is based in east Pasco, floated the idea of building a second sports complex in Pasco County even though the commission hasn't agreed to build the first with $11 million bankrolled from tourist tax proceeds.
Schrader's gambit to get a softball field/restaurant complex east of U.S. 41 follows on the heels of Commissioner Jack Mariano's heavy criticism of consultants Sportsplex USA for not selecting Hudson — coincidentally, part of Mariano's District 5 — as the preferred site. The consultants recommended building the complex on 24 acres of county-owned land in Trinity, west of the Trinity Boulevard/State Road 54 juncture, but the commission could not muster three votes to proceed and will discuss the issue again in late January.
Tuesday, Schrader said he suggested a second complex to help solidify site selection and to ward off Sportplex USA's discussions with other counties in Florida. He did not mention the political windfall of having a new recreation complex near his home base.
Sportsplex USA has said a second project is feasible and the developers of New River in Wesley Chapel have offered to partner with the county. However, Schrader's idea to use sales tax or impact fees to finance construction undermines the stated reason for having such a sports complex — drawing tourists to the county for overnight stays.
If the county wants to jump aggressively into sports marketing to put more heads in beds, then by all means use the tourist tax dollars to build a complex that, as now suggested, would attract baseball and softball players for weekend tournaments. It comes with an ancillary benefit of providing space for local adults in weeknight leagues.
But if the notion is to simply provide more recreation space for Pasco residents, with an occasional tournament being the added perk, then we would urge the county to follow its own master plan for developing parks and to forget trying to appease an east and central Pasco constituency.
After all, the Wesley Chapel District Park is not fully developed and does not have a swimming pool nor indoor gymnasium as originally envisioned and the county has yet to build a district park in the Trinity area. Tackling those two projects would be more logical if there are sales tax and impact fee dollars available. But, that, too, creates problems — staffing. The county just closed its only east Pasco pool at the Hercules Aquatic Center and cut staffing at Grove Park, Odessa and Shady Hills community centers because of budget cuts. If it can't afford to operate what it has already, the county will be hard-pressed to add to its park inventory.
Mariano, meanwhile, believes eight to 10 softball diamonds, instead of three to five at the Sportsplex USA recommended site, are required for the complex to be successful and to draw large-scale tournaments. That thinking, however, fails to recognize that the county recreation complexes in Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes have the capability of setting up 18 soccer fields between them, but they play host to just a handful of tournaments annually. The mega tournaments Mariano seeks are few and far between and a larger complex might be used to capacity only a few weekends a year.
Clearly, the commission has much to digest over the next month. It would be smart to take stock of its existing facilities and reread the county parks master plan — approved as a precursor to adopting the park impact fee — before pursuing an agenda that puts a premium on provincialism.