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Sports complex's collapse is just the latest failure of Pasco leadership

It is disappointing, but not surprising that Pasco County has whiffed again on its pitch to use amateur sports as its central tourist attraction. This week, commissioners learned Sportsplex USA of San Diego no longer wanted to partner with the county on a planned softball complex in Odessa intended to lure out-of-town teams for weekend tournaments and to be used by local players on weeknights.

Since Sportsplex first responded to Pasco's request for a private sector partner to pick a site and to operate and maintain the fields, indecisive or parochially driven commissioners changed the planned location, size and mission of the softball complex. Then, two months ago, they put the entire matter on hold while waiting for a competitor to finalize its proposal for a complex in Wesley Chapel.

Sportsplex USA recognized a brush back pitch when it saw it and understandably walked away rather than waiting for yet another curve. In his March 14 letter to the county, Paul H. Berghoff, chairman of Sportsplex USA, listed unresolved issues including location, number of fields, amenities, budget and scheduled time line.

In other words, nothing has been accomplished in three years. Along the way, however, the commission paid Sportsplex USA $60,000 to pick a site and then ignored the company's recommendation to put it on county-owned land in Trinity after neighbors complained.

The lack of political will, vision and commitment to take a tourism plan from lines on paper to lines on a softball diamond didn't end there. Commissioners started attempting to appease competing parties. They advocated using more than just tourist tax proceeds on the capital costs; picked land owned by the Starkey family as a new alternative to Trinity, but only after tripling the size of the project from 27 to 80 acres; and grew bug-eyed with excitement in January when the Porter family unveiled a conceptual plan for a mega sports complex on its Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel with 32 fields on 180 acres.

It illustrated a ridiculous leadership void that is all too common. The failure to consummate a management contract with Sportsplex USA is another in a long line of failed tourism efforts. Since 1999, the county has been unable to come to terms on proposals to publicly build, but privately operate: A tennis stadium near Saddlebrook; softball fields to replicate historic major league baseball stadiums; lacrosse/soccer fields as a replacement for the tennis stadium; and now the five-field $12 million softball/restaurant project that became known as Sportsplex.

It is an embarrassing performance by current and past commissions that have collected a 2 percent tourist tax on overnight accommodations for two decades and still have no capital project to justify the surcharge as a supposed way to attract visitors to the county.

Consider the words of Berghoff in his March 14 letter to the county, "The events of the last three years have us skeptical that it (sportsplex) will ever happen.''

He is not alone in that skepticism.

Sports complex's collapse is just the latest failure of Pasco leadership 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 6:52pm]
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