Has Gary Sheffield done something the late Hugh Culverhouse never could?
The retired Major League Baseball star is excited about working with James Talton and Blue Marble Strategic in bringing a massive youth baseball complex to Wesley Chapel. But he is looking to bring in other big names too — especially those already associated with youth baseball — like former National Football League and professional baseball star Bo Jackson.
The Culverhouse-owned Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner, in 1986. But after a trip on Culverhouse’s private jet forced him to forfeit the rest of his collegiate baseball career, Jackson vowed he would never play a single down for the Buccaneers, and refused to sign when the team drafted him.
But 28 years later, Jackson could end up in the Tampa Bay area after all, as one of several sports stars participating in Blue Marble’s proposed 20-field complex at Wiregrass Ranch.
“Bo Jackson wants to be involved,” Sheffield told business leaders at a recent economic development event of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. “I just saw him two days ago, and they came down and met with us. All ex-athletes want to do is give back to kids.”
Jackson, who runs his own baseball program in Chicago, was one of several names Sheffield mentioned as interested in participating in some way or another at the $70 million complex, that will be built in part using $11 million in Pasco County tourist tax money. Another one tied to youth sports is former Baltimore Orioles shortstop and third basemen Cal Ripken, whose youth baseball program also has become quite popular in various parts of the country.
“It won’t be a Cal Ripken facility, or a Bo Jackson facility, but we can always integrate all of those things into what we’re doing,” Sheffield said. “What it does is give us the ability to probably have 20 to 30 MLB players that (at) any one time your kid might bump into, and that ups the brand.”
Talton wants to fill Pasco with 20 diamonds — baseball diamonds, that is. Many will have dimensions similar to Major League Baseball, but would include smaller fields as well for younger players. He wants to target teenagers, tapping into an amateur sports camp industry he says is currently worth $7 billion.
“We could make between $18 million and $20 million, and that’s just in the summertime alone,” Talton said. “If we took the 13- or 14-year-olds, and we did nothing else, I could pay down my debt service of $54 million.”
Several investors are ready to sign on the dotted line to fund the project, Talton said, but only after the county guarantees it will spend $11 million in collected tourist tax money from local hotels to help balance out some of the costs.
The return for the county could be extraordinary, according to Talton’s estimates. That includes the creation of an estimated 8,000 jobs, a $318 million annual economic impact boost to the county, and even $9 million in direct revenue from taxes and other costs, that would go directly back to the county.
“We’re already thinking we can make $53 million in revenue each year, and $16 million in net profit,” Talton said.
The more than 100 acres needed to construct the facility, not far from Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, would cost about $5 million, Talton said. And it could create Wesley Chapel into a major destination, especially for families looking to spend the money they need to help their kids play better baseball.
The facility could have other benefits as well. Besides possibly expanding to include a small stadium to attract a Major League Baseball team for spring training, the new baseball complex would need plenty of nearby amenities, including hotels and restaurants — providing even more economic opportunities in the area.
“We don’t want this facility sitting out here by itself,” he said. “We don’t want people rushing to Busch Gardens or to Tampa because there is nothing here. We need to see this kind of growth in the immediate area.”
But a grand opening is still some time down the road. Talton has until next week to secure his overall financing, but then he’ll have to work with the county through the land development and permitting stage. If everything stays on schedule, the complex could be open to its first ballplayers in January 2017.
“We can’t predict how big this is going to be,” Sheffield said. “And I think it’s going to be 10 times bigger than what James is putting to paper right now.”
The county has essentially committed $11 million to the project, but Talton says some language in its legal documents need to be cleared up, so that the final amount doesn’t come in below $11 million.
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Published October 1, 2014
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