The best use for a proposed 100-acre Wiregrass Sports Park is an indoor, multi-use complex, according to a study done by Chicago-based Johnson Consulting Co.
A few outdoor playing fields should be built, the consultants say, but they conclude that indoor sports such as basketball, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading and martial arts are the most profitable wave of the future.
The study cites other municipalities with success in similar ventures including Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Round Rock, Texas; and Foley, Alabama.
Indoor facilities operate year-round, and successful ones typically are unique to their geographic area, the study found.
Pasco County commissioners will discuss the study, and the county’s options for developing the parkland, at their Sept. 22 meeting.
The land for the park is part of more than 200 acres donated to the county by the Porter family, and is located near The Shops at Wiregrass.
Several Pasco County commissioners reported at their Sept. 8 meeting that J.D. Porter has raised questions about the study. There are concerns, they said, about future residential development on Wiregrass Ranch property and the need for open space for new residents.
“I think they were counting on this field being available,” said Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader.
J.D. Porter could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t think they (the Porter family) feel like they are in the loop,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore. “I think people are really anxious to see what’s going to happen.”
Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said the study, as well as details on the history of the parkland, is part of the upcoming discussion.
Plans to put the study on the commissioners’ meeting agenda were delayed by the county’s flooding crisis.
“We never intended this to be something you would rubber stamp,” she said. “There is a conversation that needs to occur.”
Commissioners hired Johnson Consulting Co., in March, to complete a $35,000 feasibility study on the best use of the land and how to achieve the county’s goals of building a sports tourism facility.
One proposed venture already has failed.
Pasco Sports, a partnership between James Talton and former major league baseball player Gary Sheffield, had proposed a youth baseball camp, with 20 ball fields and dormitories on site.
They wanted the county to commit between $11 million and $14 million in tourism dollars. But Talton and Sheffield let a December 2014 deadline pass without following through on a $3 million pledge to the project.
And, it turns out that baseball isn’t a winning game for Pasco, according to the consultants’ study.
That kind of development would have to compete with a $27 million sports complex in Seminole County. Plans there are for 15 fields for baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse.
“Also, the Florida marketplace is becoming saturated with outdoor complexes, especially for baseball,” the study found.
Instead, Johnson Consulting proposes an indoor facility between 85,000 square feet and 100,000 square feet, with room for expansion.
They envision between six and eight basketball courts that would convert to as many as 16 volleyball courts. There also would be a seating area for up to 750 spectators, locker rooms, and between four and six multipurpose rooms.
A health care partnership with an area hospital or health care provider also is recommended.
Published September 16, 2015