An ambitious plan to bring a major youth-oriented baseball complex to the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel might be coming apart.
Pasco Sports LLC, a partnership between Blue Marble Strategic’s James Talton and retired Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield, missed a deadline to file a financial plan with Pasco County officials Friday, a little more than a week after county commissioners gave them a little more time to get money together.
“I am very disappointed that they were unable to obtain the financing by today’s deadline,” Pasco County administrator Michele Baker said, in a statement. “However, we still believe very strongly in the concept. Youth sports are an important component of our tourism plan, and the Wiregrass location is geographically well positioned for the region. We look forward to continued dialogue with interested parties in order to bring a sports complex like this to Pasco County.”
Pasco Sports was looking to get $11 million in county funding to help construct the project, along with $23 million of its own money. However, getting a financial backer to front the private side of the deal has been problematic for Talton and Sheffield in recent weeks, which initially was a $70 million project.
The cost and scope of the project was reduced in recent weeks while Pasco Sports tried to bring in financing.
The key to the deal was a $3 million pledge to guarantee loans on the project, something Sheffield told commissioners just before Thanksgiving that he would be willing to front himself if need be.
“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 said at the time.
It’s unclear whether Sheffield was still pledging that amount, or if it was enough to help Pasco Sports meet the deadline. Talton, however, told The Laker/Lutz News in an email Saturday that he’s not giving up.
“We have to go through this process in order to structure a deal that will work for our lenders and investors,” Talton said. “In our minds, this is just another step in the process, and we have every intention of getting this project completed.”
Talton told members of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce last October that his project — consisting of 19 baseball fields, dormitories and other sports-related amenities — 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.
Commissioners wanted to make a final decision on the $11 million investment at its January meeting, but in order to do that, the developers needed to have paperwork submitted by the end of the day Dec. 5. That would then give county officials time to review the paperwork before it was presented to commissioners.
Getting more time seems unlikely, at least based on what commissioners told Talton and Sheffield last month in Dade City. New commission chair Ted Schrader said there would be no more deadline extensions.
Story updated 12/6/14 at 11:42 a.m., to include comments from James Talton.