Land donated by Porters is first step toward that vision
By B.C. Manion
Pasco County commissioners have started the ball rolling on a quest that could yield a sports complex in Wesley Chapel aimed at attracting national tournaments.
After lengthy negotiations, commissioners voted 4-1 on Nov. 7 to accept a land donation of 224 acres from the Porter family that would provide a place to build the sports complex near The Shops at Wiregrass.
J.D. Porter applauded the board’s action and pledged his family will do what it can to help the county be successful in the venture.
“We want to be the best teammates possible,” Porter said. “We’re excited about this.”
The Porters are making the contribution as a charitable donation. They also are giving 100,000 cubic yards of clean fill dirt to be used for the county’s project.
At the same time, commissioners agreed to commit $14 million in tourist development tax dollars to develop the area. As part of the deal, the county pledged to seek a company to operate the sports complex.
If the county is unable to make the sports complex happen, the land would instead be developed as a park, under terms of the deal.
The proposed sports complex would include multi-purpose fields to accommodate soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and/or football, including at least one championship field.
It would include youth size baseball/softball diamonds to accommodate adult softball and Little League with at least one championship field with bleachers. It would also have parking, restrooms and concession facilities.
Initially, the Porters proposed building and operating a world-class sports complex themselves, but talks with the county about that deal broke down. The family instead offered to give the land to allow Pasco to pursue the current option.
Commissioner Jack Mariano opposed the deal, saying he’s not comfortable committing the tourist development tax money. He suggested the county instead add fields at the Wesley Chapel District Park, and he sought to delay the vote.
Commissioner Ted Schrader pushed for the commission to take action.
“You’re going to try to do whatever you can to scuttle this,” Schrader told Mariano.
Schrader said he thought it was important for the board to vote on the issue because it was Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand’s last meeting.
Hildebrand, who was on the board when it adopted the tourist development tax 20 years ago, concluded 28 years of service at the meeting.
The deal gives the county the flexibility to test the waters regarding the development of a sports complex or to build a district park if that doesn’t pan out, said county administrator John Gallagher.
“I kind of look at this as a courtship,” Hildebrand said.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the county would be foolish to reject the Porters’ deal.
“This is going to be a world-class facility,” Mulieri said. “It’s so important to move ahead with this.”
Commissioner Henry Wilson agreed: “This needs to happen for Pasco to move forward.”
Mariano said the new arrangement deviated too much from the original approach.
“To me, we’re taking backward step after backward step,” Mariano said.
Another part of the deal requires the county to include the words Pasco County and Wiregrass in the name of the sports park property and overall complex.
The county has agreed to seek an agreement for the operation and maintenance of the sports complex within 24 months of the conveyance of the land to Pasco by the Porters.