The Pasco County Commission is poised to whiff yet again on its attempt to become a significant player in sports-related tourism. A box score will show the commission zero-for-everything tried: A tennis stadium, softball fields and lacrosse complex. It is an embarrassing drought that extends nine years, a streak pushed along by financial uncertainties, parochialism, political weakness, a dearth of business acumen, and an inability to execute their own business and tourist development plans.
The ineptitude is projected to continue this week when the board considers Commissioner Ted Scharder's call for a time-out, effectively scuttling a plan to collaborate with Sportsplex USA on building and operating a tournament-caliber softball complex in southwest Pasco.
Six months ago, Schrader wanted to build two softball complexes, now he maintains the staff is too tasked with balancing next year's budget to devote attention to one sports tourism project. Funny, but there was no such argument last summer as the staff worked to devise multimillion-dollar budget cuts and still found time to begin implementing the commission's stated desire to invest its tourist capital dollars in an athletic complex.
Before morphing into the Pat Burrell of sports tourism, the commission had grand schemes to partner with a private-sector operator — first on a tennis stadium adjacent to Saddlebrook and then on softball complex near Trinity — to lure out-of-towners for overnight stays in Pasco County. Along the way, they expanded their definition of tourist from registered hotel/motel guest to commuters stopping to buy a Slurpee. That helped rationalize spending impact fees and other revenues on projects that now appear doomed by the commission's own indecisiveness. In the meantime, they failed to approve a bed tax increase to finance their promotional plans, insulted their potential private sector partners, and spent $60,000 for recommendations they don't have the political will to follow.
The opportunity to expedite a reasonably priced softball complex for the locals to use on weeknights and to attract out-of-town tournament teams on weekends is about to evaporate. The commission's unwillingness to use a publicly owned shovel-ready and state permitted park site has empowered the nay-sayers and branded local tourism efforts with an unfortunate tag line:
Pasco County: Bringing opportunities home to die.