By Kyle LoJacono
The on-again, off-again Sportsplex park is off for good after the management company backed out of the deal last month, which may open the door to shift $12 million to developing a Wesley Chapel complex.
The Pasco County Commissioners agreed to use $12 million of tourism development money for the multisport complex near the entrance of Starkey Boulevard in Odessa with the California-based Sportsplex USA firm managing the site.
Paul Berghoff, Sportsplex USA chairman, sent a letter to county officials stating that his company felt there were just, “too many unresolved issues surrounding this project.”
The project has suffered several setbacks since the county agreed to work with the firm a year ago, including multiple changes in its location. Another sticking point was Berghoff did not give financial guarantees to the county in return for the $12 million investment.
The final death nail may have been when former county commissioner Michael Cox lost his bid for re-election in November. Berghoff’s letter stated Cox was one of the big reasons the initial deal was struck.
“Needless to say, losing the project’s driving force on the (board of county commissioners) last November has only magnified the uncertainties that exist that keep this project from moving forward,” Berghoff wrote.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri was not critical of Sportsplex USA pulling out of the project.
“It has been a very wishy-washy thing we’ve tried to build,” Mulieri said. “If it was my company, I’d probably be a little annoyed with the way things have gone.”
Fellow Commissioner Ted Schrader said the problem was not with the county’s handling of the deal.
“We wanted to guarantee our taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook if something happened with the project,” Schrader said. “If we’re going to use $12 million of taxpayer money, we need to make sure there isn’t risk of it all going to waste. That’s what stopped the tennis deal a few years ago.”
The county had plans to build the Pasco National Tennis Center in Saddlebrook Resort in 2009, but the deal fell through as well.
The Sportsplex would have had among other facilities, five softball fields designed to attract out-of-county tournaments, bringing in people to spend their money in Pasco.
The Commissioners had planned a workshop on April 12 to meet with Sportsplex officials and the Porter family, the owners of Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel. The Porters have offered to build and operate a sports complex near The Shops at Wiregrass. The meeting would have discussed how the two centers would be run.
J.D. Porter first offered to build the facility in January, when he described it as something that would resemble Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, which plays host to numerous athletic events each year. He also said the two complexes would not compete with each other.
The county still plans to have the workshop with Porter on Tuesday, April 12, where more details about the proposal will be hammered out.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of things hanging out there,” said County Administrator John Gallagher. “What do we do with that $12 million for tourism? It could go to a Wiregrass site, something on the coast or other options. It’s too soon to tell.”