Players and spectators who frequent Wesley Chapel District Park off Boyette Road already find the accommodations too crowded. And that has one county commissioner questioning why Pasco is more focused on attracting tourists to the field than trying to help service the demand there.
The county had sought bids to build two artificial turf fields at the park, only to get one bid that was $499,000 over what Pasco was willing to spend. Having such fields would attract out-of-town tournaments and teams, something Pasco won’t be able to do with grass fields, said Ed Caum with Pasco’s office of tourist development.
“I cannot market grass fields,” Caum told the commission at a recent meeting. “We have had field problems out there before for overuse.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano, who represents west Pasco, disagrees, however. He said those who use the park are frustrated, because they are butting heads with other teams that want to play out there.
“They would rather have five grass fields than two artificial fields,” Mariano said.
The lone bid came from QGS Development Inc., of Lithia, at just under $2.2 million. That was nearly $500,000 over the budget the county set.
Instead of giving up on the artificial turf fields, however, county administrator Michele Baker said she’s ready to just send the request for bids out again with tighter specifications.
“We think that turf fields are the way to go for tourism opportunities,” Baker said.
Yet, Pasco is struggling to meet the demand placed on the fields. In August, eight soccer teams and 120 players transplanted to parks in Zephyrhills. And it could be permanent.
“It places a burden on the families,” Jeff Olsen, a soccer coach whose daughter travels to Zephyrhills, told The Laker/Lutz News earlier this month. “There’s lost time as a family. There’s lost time for homework. There’s an extra rush on the evening schedule and extra costs for gas. So there’s a burden there.”
Wesley Chapel isn’t alone, however, said Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who represents the area. And at some point, the county is going to have to stop building more fields.
“We are never going to be able to give everybody every field they want,” Mulieri said. “Go to Land O’ Lakes, go to the community center, everybody is overbooked. There has got to be a time when the board says this is what we can do, and that is it.”
In the end, Mariano joined the other commissioners in rejecting the sole bid and sending out for new bids to build an artificial turf field.
At the same time, Baker said the county will begin talks with one of the primary users of the field, the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association, to work out a cooperative agreement covering the new fields once they are built.
However, construction would not begin until next spring at the earliest.