County commissioners delay decision on Trinity site
By Steve Lee
WESLEY CHAPEL — New River Township in Wesley Chapel, just west of Zephyrhills, has become a player in the Pasco County sweepstakes for a multi-purpose sports complex.
The county has $11 million in tourist tax money to invest and New River Partners of Orlando would contribute financially and with acreage. While no dollar or land amounts were revealed, none of the other seven site proponents made such an offer.
“We’ve offered a proposal for public-private partnership,” said Eric Marks, of New River Partners.
San Diego-based Sportsplex USA, hired this summer to evaluate potential sites to lure tourists to Pasco, made a pitch for a Trinity location at a Pasco County Commission meeting on Dec. 1 in New Port Richey.
Starkey Ranch, just west of the Suncoast Parkway in Odessa, ran a close second. Commissioner Michael Cox said Starkey Ranch would need landfill to be brought up to standards for such a complex.
Trey Starkey argued that the Trinity site was limited and there would be plenty of room for expansion on his family’s land.
Commissioners delayed approval of the Trinity site, which would feature four softball fields and a restaurant/pub. A final decision to build in Trinity or not is expected by Jan. 26.
Commissioner Jack Mariano favors expanding Engle Park in Hudson and objected to Sportsplex’s proposal for four baseball/softball fields and a 6,500-square-foot restaurant/pub, as well as space for three multi-use and one football fields, six batting cages, a field house and office building.
Sporstplex would be the first athletic facility built by the county since Wesley Chapel District Park opened in 2007. That park offers baseball, softball, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse and cricket.
If Trinity is rejected, another round of proposals could delay the project even further.
New River Township, situated east of I-75 and Saddlebrook, is a 1,800-acre community that eventually will include 4,800 single- and multi-family homes. Also planned is a town center for commercial, retail and medical facilities, as well as restaurants.
Paul Berghoff, chairman of Sportsplex, mentioned the possibility of building two sports complexes.
“I agree with the gentleman from New River that a second location the county could certainly support,” he said. “It’s just a matter that one project has to be first and another project second.”
A portion of the money stems from a “bed tax” collected for the past 18 years with a stipulation being that a sports complex would benefit county hotels.
Earlier this year, a $7.9 million project for a tennis stadium and practice courts at Saddlebrook fell apart when resort and county officials could not reach an agreement.
Greg Riehle, a general manager at Saddlebrook who also is on the Tourist Development Council, objected to the Sportsplex USA proposal on more than one account.
“This is about local recreation, trying to serve local recreation needs,” Riehle said. “It will have negligible affect on heads in beds.
“I urge (commissioners) to reconsider and let the TDC talk about it more … We shouldn’t just knee-jerk the first parochial project that comes our way.”
Apparently, the commissioners concurred.
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