Too often, public-private partnership translates to this: private benefit at a public cost. Now consider the offer from Trinity Communities' developer Adam Smith Enterprises. The company is volunteering to help pay the initial maintenance and operating costs at a county park planned for southwest Pasco. It is a rarely seen overture intended to help a cash-strapped county government provide services for which no money is budgeted. Of course, the altruism does have an ulterior motive. The proposal also is intended to nudge the county toward building a park on land it has owned since the 1990s.
Pasco officials have said previously the county has money available for capital construction projects, but lacks dedicated revenue to handle long-term operation costs. So Adam Smith lobbied with green money instead of red T-shirts — the signature wardrobe of Heritage Springs residents who successfully pressured the commission to kill plans to turn the vacant land into a softball/tourism site.
Five days ago, Adam Smith revealed it would donate $60,000, or nearly two year's worth of projected operation costs, to Pasco County to help smooth the way for a passive recreation park at the edge of Trinity. The 24-acre site, donated for public use as part of the two-decade-old Trinity development of regional impact, sits along Trinity Boulevard and was previously identified as a potential site for the five-field softball complex to draw tourists to Pasco. Commissioners later moved the planned softball fields across State Road 54 to property owned by the Starkey family to appease Trinity residents' objections.
That left the largely vacant land — home to a fire station and sheriff's substation — as an afterthought as the commission pursued the softball fields with Tourist Development money, a sales tax on overnight accommodations. Under that still-to-be-finalized agreement, the county will build the complex at Starkey and it will be operated and maintained by a private company, Sportsplex USA.
Trinity residents, however, continued to wonder about the fate of what they presumed to be a neighborhood park for their use and the suggestion now is to turn the space into mostly passive recreation with walking trails, tennis court, basketball hoops, picnic shelter and dog park similar to the Lake Lisa Park in the Regency Park area of west Pasco. Adam Smith president Lew Friedland told commissioners the residents of the 4,000-home Trinity area are due a park under the original development plan and because the homeowners have contributed significant park impact fees he estimated at $1.3 million.
Commissioners saw no construction plans nor firm cost estimates, but are slated to discuss the park during a January workshop. At that time, they are expected to rank pending park proposals and budget accordingly as the county pursues the Sportsplex, a waterfront park in Hudson, improvements to J.W. Mitchell Park on Little Road and the Trinity park.
Setting priorities is appropriate, but Adam Smith's generous offer shouldn't be short-changed by commissioners pursuing parochial agendas.