Tourism in Pasco County is on a launching pad, as county officials prepare for what they hope to be an explosion of visitors — sampling the county’s shops, malls, restaurants, hotels and future sports complexes.
County commissioners are reviewing proposals for a sports complex at Wiregrass Ranch, with about an $8.5 million investment.
Florida Hospital Center Ice is expected to open in early 2017, and to become a draw for local, state and national sports competitions.
Bed tax revenues are estimated to push past the $1 million mark in 2016. And, under a tourism master plan, county officials anticipate the 2 percent bed tax rate to increase to 5 percent by 2019, with revenues reaching nearly $3 million.
To tackle upcoming challenges from this record growth, Pasco is looking to reorganize the tourism office, and hire a tourism director.
“It’s growing to a pretty big operation,” said Richard Gehring, the county’s strategic policy administrator. “We’re going to be on another plateau as we compete in the Tampa Bay region. This is the next step up.”
Two to three candidates were identified and interviewed. County officials now are making an offer, and negotiating salary and benefits.
The issue came up at the County Commission’s Oct. 11 meeting.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells expressed surprise at the creation of a new position of tourism director.
Ed Caum currently serves as the tourism manager.
Under the new plan, Caum’s title would become program manager and he would report to the tourism director.
Gehring said the change is a lateral move for Caum, and not a demotion. Caum agreed, saying he concurred with the decision for the new hire.
“I don’t feel it’s a demotion,” he said, adding that he will continue to perform his current duties.
Caum didn’t apply for the tourism director position.
He said his next move may be retirement, in two to three years.
Wells praised Caum’s efforts in developing and expanding the scope of the tourism council over the years.
Wells isn’t convinced about the county’s need for a tourism director at this time.
“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” Wells said.
“I’d like to see us hold off on this until we have a new county administrator. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Wells said.
Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker is scheduled to vacate her post in July 2017.
Gehring said it makes sense to get someone on board now.
“Let’s go ahead and reach out for another horse-power level person,” he said.