Pasco commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to spend $2 million of tourist development funds for an expansion at Wesley Chapel District Park.
The park is home to Pasco’s largest tourist event, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Lacrosse Tournament of Champions held every 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 the additional fields will make it easier for the county to book other out-of-town tournaments, he said. The money will cover two artificial turf fields and 60 parking spaces, the first phase of a three-phase plan to bring the complex up to 16 fields.
“US Lacrosse requires at least 12-16 fields and a stadium that seats a minimum of 3,500 people,” Keaton said of the national governing body for the sport.
He said the IMG complex in Bradenton, which attempted to lure the Dick’s Sporting Goods tournament a few years ago, recently unveiled a proposal for a new lacrosse/soccer stadium. That complex already has 17 fields.
Commissioner Jack Mariano, who lobbied hardest for the park expansion, was the only commissioner to vote against the proposal. He said the county should build all six fields now. He also prefers natural grass fields, noting that artificial turf has a 10-year life span.
“If you’re going to do it, do it right,” Mariano said.
Commissioners had initially planned to vote on the park expansion two weeks ago, but they postponed the matter in hopes of coordinating the vote with the acceptance of a major land donation from the Porter family, developers of the nearby Wiregrass Ranch.
The Porters had hoped to build and operate a youth sports complex at Wiregrass but decided to donate the land to the county instead. The two sides have been negotiating the donation contract since December 2012 and were still reviewing drafts Tuesday.
Assistant County Attorney Jane Fagan said the closing tentatively will be held Tuesday. Commissioners will have to schedule a special meeting to approve the deal.
The proposed contract would reduce the size of the land donation from 224 acres to 138 acres. Wiregrass would keep the southern portion of the property, which was originally slated to become a public park built around two enormous lakes. The Porters would grant easements for biking and jogging trails.
The closing would clear the way for the county to resume negotiations with Blue Marble Strategic, a Tampa company planning a 21-field baseball complex on the 138-acre tract at Wiregrass.
Blue Marble’s James Talton told the Pasco Tribune he expected to have a rough draft of the lease by the end of the month. The company’s plan is to execute the lease to gain control of the Wiregrass property and immediately begin designing the complex and marketing materials and selling tournaments and sponsorships in advance.
Talton estimates it will take about a month to complete the 3-D models, website and brochures for the marketing program. Blue Marble will begin a 10-week presale and sponsorship drive and then begin to secure its financing.
Talton said the success of the presale will influence the lending terms for the $34 million complex. Pasco County would contribute $11 million. Blue Marble will seek private money for the balance. Talton said it would take about 4-6 weeks to complete the financing arrangements.
“In the meantime, design drawings would continue to progress,” he wrote in an email to the Tribune.