The future of the Wiregrass Sports Park is in play, again.
A new call for proposals will be issued within the next month seeking developers who want to partner with Pasco County in building and operating a field house for indoor sports such as basketball, wrestling and volleyball.
The project also envisions the potential for four or five outdoor ball fields. And, eventually there could be tourist attractions such as an indoor zipline, indoor skydiving, and a driving range.
But, even as the county puts the project out for bid, negotiations are under way on a new proposal from the Porter family, who have played a considerable role in influencing the development of the area.
The family previously owned the land now occupied by The Shops at Wiregrass, Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, as well as residential subdivisions and public schools.
The Porters donated more than 200 acres to Pasco County in 2012 with a stipulation that if a sports complex didn’t happen, then a park would be developed.
Since then, the county has sifted through one proposal after another, but none has panned out.
The family is eager to see work starting at the site.
It came down to one question for them.
“What can we do as a family to get this off the ground and make it a reality?” J.D. Porter asked.
Within the past two weeks, they presented county officials with a new vision for a town center-style community at Wiregrass with homes, hotels and retail. The proposal incorporates the field house, but also draws a grander vision for a wetlands area with trails, a convention center and/or performing arts center at PHSC’s Porter Campus, a public park and green space for Wiregrass residents.
It would all be pedestrian-friendly, interconnected space linking to Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, the college and a public park. The future Raymond James commercial site, with 1 million square feet of office space within six buildings, also is plugged into the plan.
The Porter’s proposal could lead to a land swap agreement returning a portion of the donated land to the family to accommodate their town-center project and also allow for a public park. The land could be split re-divided along several geographic patterns.
It was a lot to digest as county commissioners met on Oct. 27 in a public workshop with the Tourist Development Council.
Pasco County Strategic Policy Administrator Richard Gehring clicked through a slide show of changing scenarios on how development could proceed, and meet everyone’s expectations.
Discussion with the Porters is ongoing.
“There are moving parts,” said Gehring. “The geography is not fixed at this time. We’re trying to make it a win-win for as many people as possible.”
Gehring said it would take about three weeks to write a proposal for the field house. Bidders would have 60 days to submit their plans.
The recommendation to build a field house emerged from a study by Chicago-based Johnson Consulting Co.
The facility would be between 85,000 and 100,000 square feet, built on five to seven acres. There would be up to eight basketball courts, four to six multi-purpose rooms and lockers. It would operate under a private/public partnership agreement.
By the fifth year of operation, about 100,000 people a year would use the facility, said Charlie Johnson, the company’s president.
In future, outdoor ball fields could be added, he said.
“You can start with indoor, and grow from there,” Johnson said.
The field house and the Porter’s future development project is a sound one, said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.
“To me, we’re getting everything the (Johnson Consulting) report stated but above and beyond,” he said. “I’m excited…looking at it.”
Porter said the proposal allows the family to “control our destiny,” while also providing park space to county residents.
He anticipates consulting with Pasco parks and recreation officials to determine how to develop the park.
“We’ll ask them what they are lacking there,” Porter said.
If the land swap is done, he added, “We’d start immediately laying it out as amenities, not just for Wiregrass but everybody.”
Published November 4, 2015