Pasco County has marketed itself in recent years as a premier amateur sports and recreation tourism destination.
Its tourism arm — Experience Florida’s Sports Coast — has leveraged that credo, with state-of-the-art athletic facilities springing up. Those include the AdventHealth Center Ice skating rink, Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus and Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center.
Could a large-scale BMX (bicycle motocross) park be the county’s next major attraction?
Delaney Morrison, and her team, would like to see that happen.
Morrison operates Pinellas Park’s J&R Bicycles BMX Super Store. She’s also president of Ride Local Inc., a nonprofit group committed to providing safe and well-organized environments where enthusiasts can hone their skills in extreme sports.
She outlined the Ride Local’s concept at the Pasco County Tourist Development Council (TDC)’s August meeting.
“We’re eager to work with you, and hopefully bring BMX to Pasco County. It has been a passion of ours for decades now,” Morrison told the TDC, as she unveiled a 40-page proposal on the initiative.
The idea is to partner with the county to construct a BMX track and bike park on a 23-acre tract situated of the intersection of State Road 54 and Gunn Highway in the Odessa/Trinity area. The land is presently owned by Pasco County Utilities.
Under the proposal, about 3 acres would be used for a BMX dirt race course made of various jumps and rollers.
That would mark the first stage of a larger, surrounding bike park that would include a pump track, skatepark, mountain bike obstacle course, casual bike path and other features.
There would be opportunities for recreational leagues and a beginner’s program for newcomers to the off-road racing sport. It also would host large-scale competitive events sanctioned by USA BMX.
The open space also could be used for drone races, truck rallies, and Boy Scouts of America and All-Pro Dad meet-ups, among other activities, Morrison said.
“Our goals for this project are to establish a world-class track for locals and visiting riders, regardless of age or skill level,” Morrison told the TDC. “With the work that Pasco County already has done as a bicycle community, we know that BMX can just round out your offerings for bicycle activities.”
Location, location, location
Over the past year or so, Morrison and her team have had ongoing discussions with Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Keith Wiley, the county’s director of parks, recreation and natural resources.
The identified location seems ideal for multiple reasons.
Morrison praised its high visibility along the booming State Road 54 corridor, sitting along the Tower Road extension and a future high school, whose adjacent lot could be used for overflow parking for large events.
The ability for commuting motorists to see a BMX track from afar is a luxury other like-minded BMX facilities don’t have, Morrison said. Often, she said, they’re “hidden in the back of a park somewhere.”
Case in point: Tampa BMX at Lake Park in Lutz.
“They have good ridership there, but you can’t see anything from the road. You just have to be in BMX and know that it’s back there,” said Morrison, who grew up in Lutz.
However, she said a Pasco BMX park would pair well with Tampa BMX and Oldsmar BMX, which is under construction — to attract regional and national tournaments.
The trifecta of facilities, she said, “would really set us apart from most other locations in the country.”
The close proximity of the tracks to each other is a selling point, she said.
“You can drive to any one of these tracks within 20 minutes and we could see, aside from bigger events, people from all over Florida wanting to come into our area to be able to ride a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and hit three tracks in the same weekend,” explained Morrison. Plus, she noted, local hotels, shops and restaurants would benefit from the business.
Continuing on the tourism piece, Morrison pointed out BMX is the fastest-growing sport/fitness activity. A study from the Sports and Fitness Association puts it ahead of other activities, such as cardio tennis, skiing, pickleball and rugby, among others.
The sport is pandemic-proof, too, she argued.
Morrison detailed a three-day BMX event last month in Toledo, Ohio — the Buckeye Nationals — drew representatives from 37 states.
If Ohio can attract that kind of crowd, during the summer in the middle of a pandemic, she said, she’s confident that Tampa Bay — with its beaches, Busch Gardens and easy access through Tampa International Airport — would see a rise in tourism.
Money appears the biggest hurdle in getting the project off the ground.
The park has an estimated base cost of $1.7 million to $2 million, Morrison said.
That’s without additional frills, such as an open-air covered roof on the BMX track, to allow for year-round use.
That’s an amenity that Morrison highly encourages, should the county assist in a partnership: “You don’t have to worry about a rainout. You really cut down on the heat. We think we’d get some regulars, a larger local draw than what some other tracks that aren’t covered do.”
Cities and counties in other states have generally “put up quite a bit of money” with funding such projects, Morrison told the board.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, who chairs the TDC, indicated the county could negotiate or support some type of land use or lease deal.
Providing upfront funding for construction, though, is all but a non-starter, at least for the present, given the COVID-19 pandemic and funding of other projects, such as the $44 million Wiregrass Sports Campus, he said.
“We just don’t have money in the tourism budget right now for additional capital projects,” said Moore.
“Not saying in the future there might not be, but right now, the cash, whether it be a million, million-and-a-half, two million or three million dollars, it just is not within the tourism budget,” Moore said.
With that, Morrison acknowledged her organization hasn’t fully gone “down the rabbit hole” in terms of capital funding mechanisms.
But, Ride Local Inc., is toying with some creative ideas, such as leveraging a corporate naming sponsorship or partnering with an electric company to install solar panels on a would-be covered roof to offset costs.
The group is prepared for the legwork needed to cultivate creative partnerships and alternate funding sources, she said.
“Really, for lack of a better term, we’re not scared,” Morrison said, there may be some other sources of funding within the state or region they can seek out.
Funding complications aside, TDC members expressed enthusiasm for a BMX facility of some sort.
“I love the idea,” said TDC vice chairman Wendy Longman, owner of Windsong Boat Charters in New Port Richey. “I think it would add a lot of value to the county and with the state of how things are, it’s a great social distancing sport, so I think it’s a phenomenal idea.”
TDC member Judy Sutton, owner of Quality Inn-Port Richey, concurred, hyping up the tourist benefits: “Between the United States and Canada, I also know people that do BMX, and you do travel a lot, and there’s an opportunity to bring it to Pasco.”
Published August 26, 2020