1. Business

Pasco narrows list of sports-tourism suitors

NEW PORT RICHEY — The playing field is down to two companies competing to partner with Pasco County on a sports-tourism complex in Wesley Chapel.

Clearwater-based Sports Facilities Management and RADDSPORTS of Sarasota will be invited to give formal presentations to a county evaluation committee next month in advance of a final recommendation to the Pasco County Commission.

The two suitors are the finalists for a potential contract to build and operate an indoor multipurpose center for amateur sports at Wiregrass Ranch. The county has set aside $8.5 million to help cover construction costs, and the Porter family donated 120 acres within its Wiregrass development for the project.

Four companies submitted formal proposals to become the county's partner on the project, which is intended to draw out-of-county visitors and promote overnight hotel stays. On Monday, a county committee — assistant county administrators Cathy Pearson and Heather Grimes; strategic policy administrator Richard Gehring; parks, recreation and natural resources director Kelley Boree; facilities director Erik Breitenbach and tourism manager Ed Caum — pared the competing companies to two. The panel eliminated Holladay Properties of Indianapolis and the newly formed USCA Management Co. of Land O'Lakes.

Committee members said they considered Holladay's proposal non-responsive because it offered to plan a multiuse development, but did not seek to operate it.

"The county is not in a position to operate it," Caum said. "My staff cannot operate it."

The committee dismissed USCA Management as too inexperienced. USCA (Ultimate Sports Complex Athletics) proposed a four-building, $48 million complex to include a sports bar, an indoor go-cart track and bowling alleys, as well as buildings for competitions. It projected a $29 million operating profit in its first year, based on half a million visitors.

"I don't know where they came up with their revenue, but they're way off target," Grimes said.

Sports Facilities Management proposed a $16.5 million, 92,000-square-foot building holding six full-size basketball courts or a dozen volleyball courts with roll-out athletic turf for indoor fields. The company manages four of the top nine multipurpose sports-tourism venues in the United States. Its proposal, however, did not identify a construction partner, and committee members said they had questions about the company's financial plan.

RADDSPORTS submitted a joint proposal with financier Municipal Acquisitions of Washington, D.C., and Mainsail Development of Tampa, which would operate a 100-room, $15 million Marriott hotel on the site. The plan includes a $14 million, 98,000-square-foot building with eight basketball courts and dedicated space for gymnastics and cheerleading.

An obstacle, however, is the county's current contract with the Porter family, which does not allow a hotel on the site. The donated land is earmarked for sports recreation and sports tourism, said senior assistant county attorney Jane Fagan, and "any auxiliary use has to be incidental." It likely means land-lease negotiations among the county, the Porters and Mansail Development if RADDSPORTS is selected by the commission as its partner.

The Porters recently sold a parcel, just south of the sports center site, for a planned 92-room Fairfield Inn and Suites. It is one of five hotels planned for the State Road 56 corridor that are tied to the 2015 opening of the Tampa Bay Outlets mall, the planned commercial development of the Cypress Creek Town Center on the north side of SR 56, the ongoing construction of the Florida Center Ice complex and now the multipurpose sports facility.

Pasco isn't alone in seeking a bigger slice of the sports-tourism market. Hillsborough County is building a $12.9 million, 16-field tournament soccer complex on 65 acres between U.S. 301 and Falkenberg Road.

"In my opinion, I don't see (the Hillsborough facility) as complimentary or competitive" with Pasco's complex, Gehring said. "It's not well positioned for a hospitality draw."