After years volleying proposals back and forth, the future of a 200-acre sports complex near The Shops at Wiregrass mainly rests on two major questions for county commissioners.
Is Pasco willing to build the Fields at Wiregrass Park?
And can the county find someone to maintain and run it?
A proposal from the Porter family that owns the Wiregrass development in Wesley Chapel is under reviewe by county staff members and a possible deal may come to county commissioners on Nov. 7.
“My goal is to get it to the commission by the Nov. 7 meeting,” said Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader, who met with family members to get a proposed agreement to the county.
The family would donate up to 200 acres for the complex but wants no part in building or running the operation. That would be up to the county under the draft agreement that went to Pasco officials on Oct 19.
Basically, commissioners need to decide whether to spend the money and to take over running the park, said County Administrator John Gallagher.
The county has $14 million, $11.5 million in tourist tax money that’s been piling up since 1991 and $2.5 million from sales tax revenue, to build the park but originally hadn’t planned on running the facility that would have fields that could be used for soccer or lacrosse and baseball diamonds.
It is seen as a lure for athletic tournaments that can draw families and players from around the country and let Pasco compete with the facilities in surrounding counties.
Hillsborough County is looking at building a complex for soccer and football with up to 20 fields on 84 acres near Brandon and a private developer is considering building 22 baseball fields around Riverview.
Gallagher doesn’t see building the park as a large obstacle. It is finding a competent operator that is proving more difficult, he said.
“That’s been the tough nut to crack,” he said.
One problem has been finding someone able to meet a commission requirement that any operator put up 10 percent, or up to $1.4 million of their own money, Gallagher said.
“The big problem is finding someone to run it,” he said.
That may be easier once commissioners have ownership of the land and a solid agreement with the Porter family, Schrader said.
“We need to secure an agreement with the Porter family. Then we can say we have a site and the money,” he said.
“Once we get the property, then we have something concrete. If we have something more concrete, I believe it will be easier,” he said. It is a question of finding the right operator and making sure Pasco’s interests are protected.
Budget cuts have made it impossible for the county’s park and recreation department to maintain the facility.
“It has to make money and be self-sustaining,” Schrader said. “The hard part is finding an operator you have confidence in.”
Schrader and Gallagher believe the site in the growing Wesley Chapel area is the right location.
The county and family also have to hash out other details of the agreement before it comes to commissioners, Gallagher said.
“We’ll give them our comments and those they agree with will be put in the agreement,” he said. “Those we can’t agree on we’ll take back to the commissioners.”
Schrader hopes those meetings can happen in the coming week.
He and Gallagher agree the site northeast of the Shops at Wiregrass and in the Wesley Chapel area is an excellent location for the complex.
The county envisions the park with 12 fields for soccer or lacrosse and eight baseball fields along with concession stands and other amenities.
The bulk of the $14 million in construction money would come from a 2 percent levy on hotel bills. It would be the first large expenditure of the bed tax that can be used to promote tourism or build something to attract tourists but can’t be used to run or maintain facilities.