Late-game heroics are something Gary Sheffield became accustomed to during his 21-year professional athletic career. But his plans to build a massive baseball complex in Wesley Chapel is now in the bottom of the ninth, and the retired outfielder is going to need a grand slam to make it a reality.
Pasco County commissioners gave Sheffield and business partner James Talton until January to secure enough seed money to help Pasco Sports LLC build a 19-field complex not far from Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel in the Wiregrass Ranch area. Commissioners like new chair Ted Schrader was reluctant to give the developers the extra time, that is until Sheffield pledged $3 million of his own money to make sure it happens.
“I talked to my bankers, and at the end of the day when all this is said and done, if nobody comes in and does this, I’m going to use $3 million myself to take care of that note,” Sheffield told commissioners.
Sheffield and Talton have struggled to get financing for what has become a $34 million project to attract up-and-coming youth baseball players from around the country. One of the biggest sticking points is the land, Sheffield said, which would remain under the county’s control. Not having the more than 100 acres as collateral has made the overall project less attractive to investors.
Also complicating matters is the fact that Pasco Sports can only talk to one investor at a time, Sheffield said. Being forced to wait until an investor comes to a decision before Pasco Sports can approach someone else has pushed the project back for months. It also has put the county’s $11 million in tourist tax money in jeopardy.
“It’s a fantastic location and a great concept,” Schrader said during a meeting in Dade City last week. “We just have to make sure that we have the right partner.”
Commissioners had hoped to get the proof of financing they requested to give the baseball complex their blessing. However, without initial funding secured, nothing is concrete just yet.
Making the situation more difficult now are the holidays.
“In the financial world, if you don’t have a deal struck now, you’re not going to get anything done until the end of the year,” Schrader said. “Delaying this to the end of January is something I don’t have a problem with. I am concerned with the money they are going to be obligated to put forward, that those bills be paid for in an expedited manner when necessary.”
Pasco Sports would have until the beginning of December to turn over the necessary paperwork to show proof of financing. From there, the county will review the paperwork so that commissioners can act on it by the time the new year rolls around.
Commissioner Jack Mariano was concerned with high interest rates attached to the $3 million seed money — some 20 percent — fearing annual expenses to pay it could climb as high as $600,000.
“This was thrown together just to put something in front of us, and it’s very unstable,” he said.
Talton, however, assured Mariano that he’s not looking to pull out $3 million upfront, and then start paying back high interest rates. Instead, Pasco Sports would just use money when its needed to help cover initial bills, and are not obligated to use all — or any — of that $3 million.
“It’s just an incentive for that person (who offers the money) to step forward, and an incentive for us not to use it,” Talton said. “It’s absolutely normal to have a bridge loan at a high interest rate at the beginning of a project.”
The county has looked at Talton’s and Sheffield’s project as one that could bring in thousands of young baseball players and their families each year, and possibly even attract a Major League Baseball team to have spring training there.
Talton told members of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce last October that his project could create an estimated 8,000 jobs and a $318 million annual economic impact boost to the county. Even the $11 million Pasco is investing would come back quickly, he said, as the project is estimated to pay the county $9 million in taxes and other costs.
Talton had hoped to spend as much as $70 million on the project, tapping into what he described as a $7 billion youth sports industry. However, the project has shrunk a bit as Pasco Sports failed to bring in the big investors it had hoped.
Commissioners approved the extension unanimously, delaying a final decision until January. But Schrader added a warning: this is the last extension.
Sheffield remains optimistic, just as he did last month when talking to local chamber members.
“We can’t predict how big this is going to be,” Sheffield said at the time. “And I think it’s going to be 10 times bigger than what James is putting to paper right now.”
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