The lawyers were still negotiating the contract when Pasco County commissioners took their seats for Tuesday’s board meeting, but by the end of the afternoon the county was a step closer to owning 138 acres of prime real estate in Wiregrass Ranch.
The Porter family, the owners and developers of Wiregrass Ranch, are donating the land just north of The Shops at Wiregrass to be a future sports complex and tourism generator.
“We’re happy for the county,” J.D. Porter said. “We expect them to move ahead to find a world-class operator to build a world-class sports facility there.”
The Porters had hoped they would be the ones building the sports complex at Wiregrass, but when they couldn’t agree on a contract last year with County Administrator John Gallagher, the family backed out and opted to donate the property instead.
But even that didn’t go smoothly. It took six months to iron out the details over the acreage, the trail easements, sewer connections and the specifics of the 100,000 cubic yards of fill dirt the family also is donating.
“I don’t know why it took so long,” Porter said. “It’s just been a lot of back and forth.”
Assistant County Attorney Jane Fagan said the lengthy negotiations paid off. “For all intents and purposes, we are in agreement,” she told commissioners. “The only outstanding issue really is about closing.”
The Porters wanted to close the deal Tuesday after the special board meeting, but Fagan advised them to postpone the closing up to a week so she could review some of the contract language related to trail easements.
Commissioners unanimously approved the contract for the donation and authorized Chairman Ted Schrader to execute the closing documents.
“I know this has been a long and arduous process,” Schrader said. “I want to thank the Porters for all they’ve done to bring a world-class sports facility to Pasco County and also for their patience and willingness to donate this land.”
The closing will clear the way for the county to resume negotiations with Blue Marble Strategic, a Tampa company planning a 21-field baseball complex on the Wiregrass tract. Porter said the family has been too busy to review the Blue Marble proposal, which includes a 5,000-seat stadium and dormitory-style housing for traveling sports teams.
Still, Porter called the contract a “positive step” for a county that had failed in three previous attempts to build a sports complex with its tourist tax money.
Almost two-thirds of the estimated $34 million needed for the baseball park would be private money, with the county kicking in $11 million.
Blue Marble founder James Talton said he was ecstatic to find out the county had accepted the Porter’s donation.
“We can’t wait to move forward,” he said.