County grants to promote events such as the Chasco Fiesta appear to be safe for the coming year.
There also appeared to be little inclination during a workshop session between Pasco County commissioners and the Tourist Development Council on Tuesday to raise the county’s 2 percent tax on hotel and short-term rentals that helps fuel the grants.
During the session held at St. Leo University, Eric Keaton, public communications manager for the county Tourist Development Council, said the county allocated $80,000 in bed tax money for 16 events last fiscal year but groups only claimed $70,000 of that.
The money can only pay for advertising and promotion outside of Pasco and is intended to help lure people from other states or counties to spend the night in Pasco. Groups that receive the grants are encouraged to advertise up to 250 miles from the county and are reimbursed by the county for what they spend.
County grants to the 16 events generated just shy of 1,500 room nights for the county’s innkeepers, Keaton said.
The Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey produced the most hotel business with 419 room nights, followed by the Pasco Bug Jam at 227 and the Suncoast Arts festival at 223.
There is little reason to cut the promotions grants for events because the council budget can handle the requests, said member Jack Phethean. The county has not turned down requests because of a lack of funds, he said.
While the local festivals filled 1,500 hotel rooms, the county got much more of an impact from about $78,000 spent to sponsor events mainly geared toward sports tournaments, an analysis by the state showed.
County sponsorship of events in the last fiscal year, such as the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions, drew 30,703 visitors to the area and accounted for more than 7,600 room nights and an economic impact of $7.8 million, a Florida Sports Foundation analysis showed.
The lacrosse tournament by Dick’s Sporting Goods at Saddlebrook Resort received $22,500 from the county sponsorship and generated more than 3,700 room nights, said Stephen Rodriguez, vice president of the foundation that is the state’s official promotion and development arm for sporting events.
That event, though, may be lured to Bradenton, Rodriguez said.
Pasco County could jump into the potentially lucrative but fierce competition to lure well-heeled sporting events as a tourism boost by building a baseball complex or an indoor facility with at least three regulation basketball courts, the foundation recommended.
But the review of Pasco’s sports facilities did not recommend the county pursue building a major aquatic center that would meet the demands of competitive swimming events.
“It was noticed that the area is in need of a competition-level long course aquatic complex," the review stated. "At this time, New Port Richey Recreation & Aquatic Center serves the local needs for swimming competition. Understanding that developing a profitable aquatic facility is a challenge, the Foundation is not recommending that Pasco County undergo such a venture at this time.”
But any aquatic facility that would lure visitors for major competitions should have a 50-meter pool, be able to accommodate sports such as water polo or synchronized swimming, have warm-up areas and a diving well, the report said.
Rodriguez said the county could consider building a baseball and softball complex with at least eight diamonds and ancillary facilities such as meeting and administrative space, locker rooms, enclosed dugouts, lighting and ample seating.
Currently, the county has only two competition-level softball complexes, each with three fields. The county doesn’t have enough baseball fields in one place to lure major competition.
Another option would be a multi-purpose indoor facility that could host basketball and volleyball tournaments and a multitude of other events from Judo to table tennis or cheerleading competitions.
Now, the New Port Richey Recreation & Aquatic Center with two courts is the candidate to be a main tournament facility, the report said. Two courts at St. Leo University are already over-used, according to the analysis.
Rodriguez said hosting sports events and competitions produced $1.19 billion in economic impacts statewide in 2010. That included the impact from the state’s professional sports teams, he said.