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Pasco Tribune

Developer shares vision for $34M Wiregrass Ranch sports complex

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Published:   |   Updated: December 10, 2013 at 07:29 PM

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County commissioners say they want to make Pasco a premier county. Blue Marble founder James Talton pledged to deliver the nation’s premier youth sports complex at Wiregrass Ranch.

“We want to have things here that will make us unique nationally,” Talton told commissioners during a workshop Tuesday as he presented his latest renderings for a $34 million baseball and softball complex in Wesley Chapel.

The massive project includes 19 fields — including nine Major League Baseball regulation-sized fields and a stadium. The number of fields is more than sufficient to attract an MLB spring training site to Pasco, he said.

“It’s glamorous to get a spring training site, but you really make your money with youth baseball tournaments in the summer,” Talton said.

He told commissioners the Wiregrass complex would have the facilities to compete with the most successful baseball parks in the nation, such as Cooperstown in upstate New York. And the Blue Marble would be the only operator in the market who could book a baseball tournament in December.

“There’s nobody else in the U.S. who has all turf fields, on-site housing, and is open year-round,” Talton said.

Commissioner Ted Schrader agreed, noting that it was 80 degrees outside. “It’s certainly baseball weather right now,” he said.

The parking deck would have retail shops, concessions and training facilities — including batting cages — on the ground level, Talton said. The dorms would feature a full-service restaurant and sports bar for spectators and a cafeteria for visiting athletes. Preliminary designs even call for practice fields on the roof and a players’ lounge with comfy sofas and gaming consoles.

The four-story dorm would be built to meet wind load requirements so it could serve as a hurricane shelter.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said the design is flexible enough that it could accommodate corporate events. “I see all kinds of uses for it,” she said.

County Administrator Michele Baker said she and Talton have agreed on most of the details for the 30-year contract. “We just want to have our economist review it, and then I expect to bring it back to you in January for approval,” she said.

Blue Marble would put up the bulk of the investment - $23 million - and must provide verification of the funding within 180 days of executing the contract. Pasco County would contribute $11 million, including $9 million from tourist development funds.

Blue Marble would build and maintain jogging trails, picnic shelters and playgrounds that are free and open to the public. Pasco residents will receive a discount on admission to any sporting events.

Blue Marble would pay a basic $5,000 per month rental fee beginning in the third year of the contract or 2 percent of gross revenues — whichever is higher. The company also would be required to pay tourist taxes for its dorms, state and local sales tax and an ad valorem use tax.

Talton said he’s eager to get started. “I’ve already had people call me from associations wanting to know when I’m going to be open because they want to book tournaments,” Talton said. “We’re talking about 100 teams. I told them late 2015 — if we get this deal early next year.”

lkinsler@tampatrib.com

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