Pasco County commissioners agreed to push ahead with a proposal from RADD Sports to build a $25 million sports complex at Wiregrass Ranch.
About $15 million in funding would be from a bank loan, secured with a proposed 2 percent increase in the county’s tourism tax. Nearly $11 million would come from previously pledged tourism dollars, and sales tax revenues.
County commissioners unanimously voted to pursue the project, and send out bids for the bank loan at their April 12 meeting in Dade City.
The sports complex, and an $18.5 million, 120-room hotel, would be built on land donated years ago by the Porter family – developers of Wiregrass Ranch and The Shops at Wiregrass.
Over the past eight years, several proposals fell apart, including one for a baseball complex in 2015.
RADD Sports wants to build a 98,000-square-foot indoor facility for sporting and recreational activities including basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, dancing, wrestling, gymnastics, curling and badminton. In addition, there would be outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, trails, pavilions and a playground.
“This is a good program,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore. “Over the years, for whatever reason, commissions in the past have not moved forward. We have a great opportunity. Let’s stop kicking the can down the road.”
Dirt won’t be flying any time soon, however.
It will take additional votes to finalize the project, including an ordinance to increase the tourist tax. Four of five county commissioners need to approve the increase.
Though the initial vote was unanimous, Pasco County Commissioners Mike Wells and Jack Mariano had concerns about linking new tourism dollars to one project.
Wells would like to see boat ramps built in western Pasco in future. County officials said the bank loan possibly could be increased to $16 million or $17 million to fund those.
Mariano said tax revenues should be spread around to benefit the entire county, not just focused within the Wesley Chapel area.
“What’s the fairness to the other side of the county when there’s no return coming back?” he said.
But, prior to voting in favor, he added, “I know this is going to be a top-shelf product.”
Details are still being negotiated, but the county will receive a portion of the profits generated from the sports complex. “The entire county will benefit from this project,” Moore said.
However, the project and the tax increase drew a notable objection from Thomas Dempsey, owner of Saddlebrook Resort.
It makes no sense to use the tourism tax as “backup for a loan that can’t be obtained in a normal way through a bank,” said Dempsey, who spoke during public comment. “I can’t run a business that way. Nobody should. It’s a burdensome tax on Saddlebrook.”
The upscale resort in Wesley Chapel contributed a large share of the $8.5 million already collected in tourist taxes. A rebate program is being proposed to compensate Saddlebrook and other hoteliers. Details will be negotiated as the project moves forward, but Wells said, “It should have been done before yesterday.”
RADD Sports estimates gross revenues of $3.8 million in the first year, with increases each year after. Company officials pledged that the loan debt would be paid first before RADD Sports got paid.
Research shows that the complex will have a regional pull, drawing people willing to drive four hours to eight hours, said Anthony Homer, vice president of real estate for RADD Sports. About 1.2 million people live within a 30-minute drive, he added.
An estimated 30 to 40 special sporting events can be held at the complex, along with weekday activities for local amateur leagues and recreational visitors.
On average, more than $208 is spent daily per person during tournament weekends for the event, as well as at hotels, shops and restaurants in the area.
“We didn’t pull these numbers out of a hat,” Homer said.
However, county officials said banks wouldn’t accept RADD Sports’ revenue projections as the only collateral source for the loan.
Hope Allen, president of The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, urged commissioners to support the project.
“The timing is right,” she said, during public comment. “Everybody is ready to move forward,” Allen said.
Published April 19, 2017