An ambitious plan to bring a major youth-oriented baseball complex to the Wiregrass Ranch area of Wesley Chapel might be coming apart. Yet, the developers of the plan aren’t giving up, and are even willing to continue on without $11 million in funding from Pasco County.
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 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 last week 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 tourism 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, forcing some scale-back from what was originally a $70 million project.
The key to the deal, at least in the eyes of the Pasco County commission, 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.
“In our minds, this is just another step in the process, and we have every intention of getting this project completed,” Talton told The Laker/Lutz News in an email over the weekend.
The commission, based on what Ted Schrader told Talton and Sheffield at the pre-Thanksgiving meeting, is expected to terminate the agreement it has with Pasco Sports at its next meeting in January. Talton, however, said that’s exactly what he now wants to happen.
“The current agreement is being terminated,” he said. “I literally cannot work based on the current financing environment. We will negotiate new terms and have financing in place upon execution so we can move forward immediately.”
In fact, Talton said the county would no longer be asked to invest $11 million into the project, as long as it releases Pasco Sports from its obligation to pay fixed and contingent county revenue, as well as the company’s obligation to secure funding by a specific date and at a specific amount. Talton shared this in a letter to Pasco County administrator Michele Baker Nov. 25.
The county, however, would still be responsible for funding and construction of the connector road between Wiregrass Ranch Road and the park, Talton said. While Pasco would save the $11 million, it would not receive a piece of the revenue generated by the sports park when it goes into operation under this revised plan.
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.
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.
Published December 10, 2014
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