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Pasco County seeks tennis stadium builder

After a delay of more than half a year, Pasco County has issued a call for a company to build and manage a tennis stadium using millions of dollars from the county's hotel room tax.

The formal "request for proposals" appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on July 5, 6 and 7 and gives companies until 2 p.m. Aug. 13 to submit a stadium offer.

The idea comes from Saddlebrook Resort owner Tom Dempsey, who last year proposed building a stadium with $5.7-million stockpiled from a 2 percent tax on hotel rooms since 1991.

Dempsey dubbed the 5,000- to 8,000-seat open-air tennis arena the "Pasco National Tennis Center" and suggested it be built within minutes of Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel.

Dempsey initially drummed up enthusiasm by promising the stadium would be self-sufficient and would highlight the county to an international tennis audience.

Only later did questions arise about extra tennis tournament fees that in other cities cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nor did the $5.7-million necessarily cover the price of roads and land for the stadium.

Although a majority of the five-member County Commission appear lukewarm about tennis, they nevertheless agreed last year to issue a request for proposals.

The document reflects commissioners' wariness about hidden stadium costs. The county agrees to make a one-time investment of "approximately $5.7-million" for design, land acquisition and construction.

Another condition stresses that the stadium be "managed in a manner that does not require additional investment or operating funds."

The county also demands the company provide a business plan that includes "realistic projections of revenues and expenditures."

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