WESLEY CHAPEL — The private pitch to turn former ranch land into a 19-field baseball and softball complex draws most of its financing from a program allowing affluent foreigners to acquire visas in exchange for $1 million investments.
Pasco Sports LLC submitted a $23 million financial package to Pasco County this week that includes letters of commitment for $3 million from Hallmark Mergers and Acquisitions LLC, and $20 million from EB-5 Financing LLC, said county spokesman Doug Tobin.
The financing is being tapped by Pasco Sports LLC, the proposed operator of the facility that will be built on county-owned land north of the Shops at Wiregrass mall in Wesley Chapel. The company officers are James Talton, owner of Blue Marble Strategic Pasco, LLC, and former major leaguer Gary Sheffield who is listed as "authorized member'' on Pasco Sports LLC's state filings.
Pasco County's legal staff is now reviewing the financing package and commissioners may decide on Oct. 21 whether to accept it as valid and provide $11 million in public money for the complex.
Originally envisioned as a $34 million project, Talton is now proposing a $65 million complex with $54 million in private investment. The plan as outlined by the county includes nine major league-regulation ball fields, a stadium, and 10 youth-sized fields to be used for tournaments, for private camps and as a lure for baseball scouts.
It has since grown to include on-site dormitories for traveling teams, a parking garage, a players' lounge, a cafeteria, a restaurant and an indoor training facility. Some of the fields will be designed so they can be configured for softball, soccer and lacrosse.
The EB-5 program has been lauded as a valuable community investment and job-creation tool but also scrutinized as a little regulated visa-for-sale industry that Fortune magazine, in a July article, called "a magnet for amateurs, pipe-dreamers and charlatans who see it as an easy way to score funding for ventures that banks would never touch.''
It allows foreign nationals to invest $500,000 in projects that create jobs in rural or high unemployment areas, or $1 million for economic development regardless of the location's demographics. In exchange, the investors receive permanent residency, also known as a green card, and can apply for U.S. citizenship after five years of residency.