Pasco Commission chairperson Jack Mariano still isn’t sure how the county should pay for it and he is hoping to add more athletic fields than required at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus. But he was on board with the rest of the commission this week in picking a contractor for the work.
Trias Construction of Lutz was the sole bidder on the job, according to the commission agenda packet. The company will be paid $15.2 million to meet the county’s obligations to the Porter family, who donated the site for the campus in 2013. The company’s work will include constructing more multipurpose fields, concession areas, trails and parking.
During last month’s discussion, Mariano balked at a request for the commission to approve a $12 million loan to be paid back with tourist taxes. He repeated his hope this week that the county find other funding sources, such as money already set aside for building trails, rather than promising so much tourism money and taking on so much new debt.
Mariano said he has been meeting with various county department leaders to talk about options and hopes that a plan to divvy up the costs can be presented for board approval in the future.
The campus, which opened in 2020, was designed to be the centerpiece of the county’s Florida’s Sports Coast tourism marketing brand. Last year, after a legal dispute with the company the county hired to run the campus, RADDSports, county Parks Recreation and Natural Resources took over running the site.
In recent months, Porter family members have ratcheted up their concern that the county had not made good on a promise to build five more multipurpose fields by the time the main campus building opened. The COVID-19 epidemic and cost overruns prevented that at the time, officials have said.
Mariano said that after further conversation about the original agreement, he wanted people to know that everyone was aware that getting the entire project done at one time was not going to be possible.
He also highlighted for other commissioners a portion of the construction plan that called for trails that he believes can be used for two additional athletic fields. He said he believed the trails and added parking could be located somewhere else.
“You’re exploring the possibility of going from five fields to seven fields?” asked Commissioner Seth Weightman. “Sounds good.”
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Mariano also repeated his push to find other money to pay for parts of the project so that the county didn’t have to borrow so much. He had previously voiced concern that taking out a loan for the cost increases would raise the estimated $1.5 million annual debt payment by $800,000.
He said he wanted a full discussion of the possibilities so that the project didn’t become an added burden to the county.
“All options are open,” he said.