With 18 sports fields, eight total courts for basketball and tennis, more than a mile of trails, and a library, Starkey Ranch District Park is aiming to become a centralized recreational location for the entire county.
And while Pasco County’s financial commitment is minimal compared to that of the school board and the private developer of the project just off State Road 54 past Trinity, commission chairman Jack Mariano wanted to make it clear that his approval comes with conditions: start fully funding the rest of the county parks.
“We cut libraries back tremendously, and cut parks back tremendously,” he said, adding that by the time Starkey Ranch District Park moves forward, “if we haven’t addressed getting rid of the park fees and putting more money back into the parks, I am not going to be comfortable moving forward.”
The problem, Mariano said, is that the county already is struggling to maintain the recreation areas it already has. Adding the Starkey Ranch project could make it even more difficult for the county, which is already charging $2 parking fees for those who visit various parks in the county. Those fees were designed to stave off further funding cuts from parks following a fall in overall tax revenue after the housing market collapse.
If the fees were still in place by the time parts of Starkey Ranch opened up, visitors also would pay the parking fee there, county administrator Michele Baker said.
“We cut back parks over 30 percent, and we’re going to add another liability for more parks and libraries,” Mariano said.
Starkey Ranch, however, is planned to become much less of a liability. The county would not be responsible for taking over part of the maintenance fees until 2017 when it would take on 15 percent of the costs — estimated at $42,700. The county wouldn’t fully take over maintenance of the park until 2023, where it’s estimated to cost just under $285,000.
By then, the existence of the park should spark more residential growth in and around Starkey Ranch, and those additional taxpaying rooftops should more than offset the costs incurred by the county, Baker said.
“The developer has stepped forward and he is taking the risk, eating that operation cost, but bringing that quality,” Baker said. “They are stimulating growth in the area, and stimulating property value.”
Pasco County Schools will work directly with the developer on most of the district park project, funding its share, and even providing a small loan to the county to help it fund its contribution.
The first phase of the project would include five baseball and softball fields, six multi-purpose fields, two concession stands, a pavilion with picnic tables, a playground, a maintenance building and just a little less than a mile of trails. The price tag to build that portion is $9 million.
The second phase would be built when the $1.9 million in funds become available, and will include three more large multi-purpose fields, an additional playground and concession stand, and nearly 2,000 feet more of trails.
The first phase is expected to open in 2015, carrying an annual operating and maintenance cost of $285,000, which will be fully paid for by the developer over the first two years, before the county responsibility is phased in.
The overall project will include a lot more, as well. With the plans to build a three-story elementary and middle school near the project, the developer and the school district also are planning a 20,000-square-foot library, a 6,000-square-foot “black box” theater, a gymnasium, four tennis and four basketball courts, and a track among other amenities.
The county and school district also have the chance to generate revenue from the park from things like ticket surcharges, rent from private users, facility fees, advertising, and even naming rights.
Paying to name something in the park is an experimental concept the county and school board are trying, although no one can buy the rights to name the entire district park or the school. Under the program, the school district would bid out such an offering, and it would need the county’s approval.
Any name that is chosen would have to contain the phrase “at Starkey Ranch” at the end. Among the examples the county provided were “Raymond James Theatre at Starkey Ranch” or “Coastal Caisson Field at Starkey Ranch.”
Naming rights for major facilities, like Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg generate millions of dollars in revenue. However, naming shared-use facilities at Starkey Park is expected to go for much less.
The commission green-lit the project unanimously. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey abstained, citing a conflict of interest.