NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco's Tourist Development Council endorsed a plan Wednesday to hire a full-time sports marketing coordinator to bring more tournaments and sporting events to the county. But council members are still divided on whether to raise the county's hotel bed tax to help pay for the new position.
Tourism Director Eric Keaton said the position is long overdue because he and his assistant, Ed Caum, no longer keep up with the demands to promote the county.
"This tourist development plan is built on sports," he said. "In 2007 we had only two sponsorships. In 2014, we already have more than 20."
Those events include the county's largest sporting event, the Dick's Sporting Goods Lacrosse Tournament of Champions, as well as PBA bowling events, roller skating competitions and obstacle runs like Savage Race and Spartan Race. The county is also beginning to attract rugby tournaments and is working to land national judo and karate competitions.
"In my mind, it's a no brainer that we need this type of position," Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said. "This is just the next logical move. You guys are doing a wonderful job - yeah we see you everywhere - but you can't do it all."
The sports coordinator also would be responsible for promoting and managing the new turf fields at Wesley Chapel District Park and would work closely with the operators of a wakeboard park at SunWest in Aripeka and with a proposed baseball complex at Wiregrass Ranch.
"This type of work is about relationships," Caum said. "You really need someone who will be the face of sports in Pasco County. It would be great if we could have someone on board by December - in time for Dick's."
Keaton and Caum, who also serve as the county's public information staff, would also be relieved of those duties under a proposal presented Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners. A new public information manager would report to the county administrator and would be responsible for Pasco County Government TV as well as public information, community outreach and media relations.
Keaton proposed a $57,000 budget for the public information manager, which would come from the county's general fund, and $59,000 for the sports coordinator to be paid with tourist tax revenue.
Commission Chairman Ted Schrader, who also chairs the Tourist Development Council, said the potential $34 million baseball park at Wiregrass makes the sports marketing position critical.
"We need to be promoting this facility before it goes to construction," he said. "When we cut the ribbon on this, we want it to be booked solid."