Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex breaks ground

Construction has begun on a long-awaited sports field house in Wesley Chapel that is expected to provide more athletic and economic opportunities in Pasco County.

The June 7 groundbreaking ceremony for the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex attracted a crowd of more than 100 people, including a Who’s Who of Pasco County dignitaries.

The $44 million sports complex is being built at  3211 Lajuana Blvd., in Wesley Chapel, just off State Road 54, near The Shops at Wiregrass.

A groundbreaking ceremony on June 7 celebrated the start of construction for the new Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex. (Kevin Weiss)

Members of the crowd came from all walks of life, including government officials, community leaders, business leaders, Wesley Chapel residents and representatives of sports organizations, local schools and universities.

They came to gather details about the 98,000-square-foot complex that will include eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts, a cheer and dance studio, a fitness center, and sports medicine and athletic training offerings.

The complex also will be able to host other sporting events and recreational activities such as martial arts, wrestling, gymnastics, curling, badminton, indoor soccer and lacrosse and pickleball.

In addition to the indoor gym, the complex will have seven outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, walking trails, pavilions and a playground.

The Pasco County Commission approved the project as a public/private partnership in 2017.

RADD Sports, a private company, will operate and manage the sports complex.

The county will own the facility and share in anticipated profits.

The county also has a ground lease for an $18 million, 128-room Marriott Residence Inn that will be built with private funds at the complex. The hotel and its “suite-style” units will cater primarily to traveling sports teams and families as well as active business travelers looking to access the facility.

The Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex is set to open by late 2019.

It will operate on Monday through Thursday as a community-based sports center for youth, adults and seniors.

The $44 million Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex is expected to open in late 2019. The 98,000-square-foot complex will have eight basketball courts, 16 volleyball courts, a cheer and dance studio, a fitness center, and sports medicine and athletic training offerings. Also, besides the indoor gym, the complex will have seven outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, walking trails, pavilions and a playground. (File)

Weekends will be set aside to host tournaments, competitions and other events that will generate hotel stays and tax revenues for the county.

Secondary uses of the complex include graduations, banquets, exhibits and concerts.

The facility is being built on land donated years ago by the Porter family – developers of Wiregrass Ranch.

Until recently, several proposals for such a facility on the land fell apart over the years, including one for a baseball complex in 2015 .

“This has been something that’s been on our minds for the past 15 years,” said Wiregrass Ranch developer J.D. Porter. “(We’re) trying to do something that’s very good for the community, bringing people into Pasco County.”

Pasco’s offerings continue to expand
The complex also adds to a growing list of premier, state-of-the art sports facilities in Wesley Chapel — and further markets the area as a sports tourism destination primarily for youth and amateur sports.

Other nearby offerings include Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, which opened in early 2017 as the largest hockey complex in the southeastern United States; Saddlebrook Resort & Spa, an upscale resort renowned for world-class golf and tennis training; and, Wesley Chapel District Park, which sits on 144 acres and contains 10 full-sized athletic fields and lighted outdoor tennis courts and basketball courts. Efforts also began recently in a quest to build a premier aquatics facility in Land O’ Lakes.

“Pasco County is rapidly positioning (itself) to be a leader in the nation in hosting sports events, and training athletes,” said RADD Sports president and CEO Richard Blalock.

Blalock last year estimated annual economic impact would be about $6.5 million for the new facility. Over 10 years, about $8 million or more in sales and use taxes would be generated, not including tourism taxes from hotel stays.

“We’re excited of the fact that it’s going to put itself where we can attract not only for the locals, but also state, regional, national and international events,” he said.

“It’s not just the out-of-state visitors that’ll come,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.

“It’s our visitors from Orlando, our visitors from Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Miami. They’ll come here, they’ll visit our small businesses, they’re going to stay at our hotels, they’re going to buy our gas, our food, (and) they’re going to help our economy.”

Moore said amateur sports tourism is one of fastest-growing market segments of the travel industry, adding “Pasco County’s about to become a major player in this $10 billion-a-year industry.”

“When we say this is huge — it’s huge,” Moore said.

According to VisitFlorida, the state’s leading tourism resource, approximately 106 million non-resident visitors came to the state last year. Of that total, 16 million were drawn to Florida by its sports economy, representing about 15 percent of the state’s tourism economy.

But it’s about more than just tourism dollars and economic impact, said Pasco County Tourism Director Adam Thomas, who spent over a decade as a professional minor league baseball pitcher.

Thomas, who has two young children, underscored the social and competitive benefits of the facility for youth — the ability to participate in local tournaments that’ll host quality in-state and out-of-state teams and athletes.

“They’re going to be exposed to a different level of playing, so we’re going to raise the bar a little bit for our student-athletes,” he said.

Reactions to the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex
“What a great opportunity we have to continue to grow the economic environment here (and) to attract people. For all those reasons everybody moves here…They’ll continue to come back because we have a great thing to offer here in Pasco County.” — J.D. Porter, Wiregrass Ranch developer

“This is going to change the game for our athletes in Pasco County, give them the opportunity to raise the level of play and, really have the opportunity for families and kids to get to college and playing those sports, so I think it’s a great opportunity,” —State Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson

“This is huge. (People’s) ability to show up today just shows the importance of this project, not only to Pasco County tourism but the business community right here in Wesley Chapel,” — Adam Thomas, VisitPasco director

“I’m excited. I’ll continue to be excited. I can’t wait to see this thing moving. I’ll probably down here every day as this goes up because I live down the street,” — Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore

Published June 13, 2018

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