WESLEY CHAPEL — Forty-year-old J.D. Porter was in high school when his family started talking about a sports-tourism venue.
But the more-than-two-decade-long talks about a tennis stadium, baseball complex, lacrosse and soccer facilities eventually gave way to an indoor sports field house at the family’s Wiregrass Ranch development in Wesley Chapel. Tuesday, Pasco County, private operator RADDSports and construction contractor Ajax Building Corp. previewed the $44 million complex for reporters and community members. Construction is scheduled to finish in July.
"What started with a tennis complex, a failure for whatever reason, turned into something great for the county and the entire region,'' said Porter, whose family donated 80-acres for the project.
When completed, the 98,000-square-foot building will be capable of having eight basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts, plus space for cheerleading and other sports, a training room, meeting space, concessions and a kitchen. Outside will be two soccer fields, an event lawn and a stage for concerts. More fields will be built in a second phase.
"It gives us a staple to really move the needle on sports tourism and corporate meetings. It’s another why. Why are people coming here?'' said Adam Thomas, director of Pasco County’s tourism agency known as Florida’s Sports Coast.
The field house and adjoining amenities, recently rebranded as the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, are being financed by Pasco County’s tourist tax proceeds. Sarasota-based RADDSports will manage the facility. Adjoining the gymnasium will be 128-room Residence Inn by Marriott to be constructed by Mainsail Development Group. A Fairfield Inn already opened nearby.
"It puts us in such a huge marketing advantage to have 200 hotel rooms within walking distance,'' said Richard Blalock, CEO of RADDSports.
The initial event is expected to be a 40-team high school volleyball tournament in September. Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore, who chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council, said the complex already has booked six events that are expected to generate 2,460 hotel room nights.
The construction site has more than 100 workers currently, said Marshall Quarles, Ajax project manager. RADDSports will have about 12 full-time employees plus part-time staff when the facility opens, Blalock said. Already, the company hired former Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell as its soccer director.
The site sits north and east of the Shops at Wiregrass mall, just north of State Road 56. Much of the fast-growing area remains undeveloped. Porter said the Wiregrass Ranch development is less than 30 percent complete.
Pasco drew more than 1 million tourists last year, according to a tracking study, and its tourist tax — a 4 percent surcharge on overnight accommodation — topped $3 million for the first time. The complex in Wesley Chapel is intended to attract youth athletes as Pasco seeks a bigger share of the amateur sports market estimated as a $10-billion-a-year industry.
Tuesday morning, the piped in music to the staging area included the O’Jays singing For the Love of Money.
The county’s Office of Economic Growth previously estimated about 20 percent of the out of town athletes and their families would stay at the Wiregrass Ranch hotels with the rest staying at other hotels in the vicinity. RADDSports has projected it would produce 27,000 visitor nights annually.