Pasco commissioners are scheduled to vote this week on a proposal to spend $2 million of tourist tax money to add two more fields and a parking lot to the Wesley Chapel District Park.
The park is home to Pasco’s largest tourist event — the Dick’s Sporting Goods Lacrosse Tournament of Champions — each December. Last year’s event brought 90 teams from across the United States and Canada to Wesley Chapel for the four-day tournament.
Tourism Director Eric Keaton said that the tournament alone had a $3.5 million economic impact to central Pasco last year, which justifies spending the tourist development dollars to expand the park. The additional fields will make it easier for the county to book other out-of-town tournaments, he said.
Pasco County has hosted the national lacrosse championship since its inception but risked losing it in 2012 when the IMG Academy in Bradenton made a competing offer. Keaton worked closely with Saddlebrook, the host hotel, and tournament officials to negotiate a four-year extension. Under the terms of the contract, Pasco must add more lacrosse fields by March 2014.
When commissioners approved the contract, they were just entering negotiations with the Porter family — developers of Wiregrass Ranch — for a youth sports complex that would have included a dozen soccer/lacrosse fields. Those negotiations fell apart in late 2012 as the Porters opted instead to donate the 200-plus acres in Wiregrass for a sports facility or regional park.
Commissioners had earmarked $11.5 million of tourist development money it had collected over two decades for the project. But now the county is working with Blue Marble Strategic on a plan to build a $34 million baseball complex with 20 fields and a stadium. The county would contribute $11 million — but only $8.5 million would come from tourist development dollars.
“Fortunately, the Blue Marble concept is only asking for a portion of the funding,” Keaton said. “That leaves us with about $3 million in tourist development funding.”
The new fields would be built on adjoining land owned by the county’s utility department. The tourism office must reimburse the utility department $182,000 for the property. Keaton said it would cost $1.75 million to construct the fields and 60 parking spaces.
Josh Gross, spokesman for NDP Lacrosse, said he’s pleased the county is moving forward with the park expansion. Even with a full slate of games at Wesley Chapel High, the tournament is outgrowing the park.
“The addition of more fields will allow us to provide a more suitable playing experience for the teams that travel to Pasco County for the national championship,” he said. “We’d like to see the complex continue to expand beyond the two fields, but we definitely feel like this is a step in the right direction.”
Keaton said his office could purchase another 39 acres from the utilities department for future expansion. He’d also like to see other enhancements at the park, such as a stadium with at least 2,000 seats for championship games. “The phase 2 and 3 is what I call the wish list,” he said.
But if the tournament continues to grow at its torrid pace, Pasco County could see the demand for more fields sooner rather than later. Gross said the tournament went from 79 teams in 2011 to 90 teams last year.
“We’d love to reach or surpass the century mark this year,” he said. “I think that’s a realistic goal, based on the growth we’ve had the last few years. To add 10 more teams would be fantastic, and that’s just more revenue coming to Pasco County before and during the tournament.”