Pasco cuts tourism aid to annual Dick's lacrosse tournament

The Wesley Chapel District Park has been the site of the Dick's Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament since 2008. On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners cut the annual $90,000 tourism subsidy to $20,000.   [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
The Wesley Chapel District Park has been the site of the Dick's Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament since 2008. On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners cut the annual $90,000 tourism subsidy to $20,000. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Dec. 12, 2017

For $90,000, Pasco County is supposed to receive year-long national publicity and exposure to tourists as part of its presenting sponsorship of the annual Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament in Wesley Chapel.

What the county has learned, however, is that none of the 60 qualifying tournaments in 22 states leading up to the tournament of champions has promoted Pasco County, as required. In addition, the event's promoters, Denver-based NDP Lacrosse, last month issued what appears to be a cut-and-paste press release from a year ago that included inaccurate and outdated information about the tournament.

The company, which has held its tournament for club-level players from the U.S. and Canada at the Wesley Chapel District Park since 2008, now is in breech of its contract with Pasco County's Tourism Office. It also has failed to deliver an audit detailing how it spent the county's $90,000 appropriation in 2016, according to county documents.

"How do you give something to someone they didn't do anything for?'' Adam Thomas, Pasco's tourism director, said in an interview last week.

Thomas proposed the county cut its financial commitment to $20,000 or terminate the contract entirely.

Tuesday, commissioners unanimously agreed, noting new state requirements require transparency in tourism spending.

"These folks have to be accountable for the money they spend,'' said Commissioner Ron Oakley.

The $20,000 figure mirrors tourism standards for other sporting events of similar size, said Assistant County Administrator Cathy Pearson. Senior Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Blair said the company previously rejected the county's plan to cut the appropriation. If it does so again, the county would terminate the contract, she said.

Even so, the commission's action does not alter this year's tournament scheduled for Dec. 29-31.

The return on the county investment in the lacrosse tournaments has been called into question in the past. Last year, for instance, only 25 percent of the 3,694 room nights generated by the tournament were booked at hotels in Pasco County.

The $90,000 in tourism money that had been earmarked for the tournament equaled 46 percent of the Visit Pasco budget for sponsoring sports events. Over the past decade, the county has committed more than $460,000 to sponsor the tournament, spent $2 million to install two synthetic lacrosse fields at the Wesley Chapel District Park and absorbed $70,000 in ancillary expenses.

In return, the county gets an influx of tourists during the tournament's three-day run in late December. Last year, 53 teams competed and an estimated 4,000 visitors came to Wesley Chapel. The annual economic impact for the region is estimated at $3 million.

"My merchants, particularly the restaurants, see an uptick in sales and traffic'' from the lacrosse tournament, said Steve Domonkos of the Shops at Wiregrass mall. "We know they're coming to the mall. They're eating out. They're shopping. They're not just sitting in a hotel room.''

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The current contract is in the final year of a two-year agreement, and the tournament's future in Pasco County is uncertain. Efforts to reach officials at NDP's parent company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, for comment were unsuccessful.

''I hope it doesn't go away, but we'll never fund it at $90,0000 again,'' said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who chairs the county's Tourism Development Council. "Wesley Chapel is going to be such a huge sports mecca, that's why I'd hate to lose the Dick's tournament, but it has to be a reasonable contract.''

The sports mecca includes Saddlebrook Resort's tennis academy, the Florida Hospital Center Ice complex which opened in January and a planned $45 million multipurpose sports center and hotel within the Wiregrass Ranch development.

Thomas acknowledged the tournament is beneficial to the area.

"It's a good tournament. I don't want it to go away,'' he said. "But I feel it's not good business sense for us to just hand over money to someone who hasn't performed their job.''