With concrete footers poured and steel beams heading vertical, the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex is a step closer to its much-anticipated opening.
The $44 million sports complex is targeted for a mid-July 2020 soft opening — more than two years after a celebrated groundbreaking ceremony that marked the beginning of construction at 3211 Lajuana Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
Once completed, the 98,000-square-foot indoor space will feature a multipurpose sports layout that accommodates up to eight basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts, plus a separate competitive cheer and dance studio, fitness and athletic training center, and other amenities.
Besides primarily basketball, volleyball and cheer offerings, the Pasco County-owned facility also will be able to accommodate martial arts, wrestling, gymnastics, curling, badminton, soccer, lacrosse and pickleball. Secondary uses of the complex will include conventions, banquets, exhibits, concerts and so on.
Originally, the facility was expected to open later this year.
But, the project experienced some delays.
“That goes with a major development project like this,” said Richard Blalock, president and CEO of RADD Sports, the private sports management company tasked with operating and managing the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex.
Those delays included inclement weather, permitting issues and redesigns of the facility to make it hurricane-resistant, Blalock said.
“When you’ve got as many moving parts that’s involved in this project, it’s just a matter of getting all the contracts lined up, and the contractor online and bids opened,” he said.
The facility is being promoted as a regional and national attraction.
The indoor gym on weekdays will operate as a community-based sports center where local youth, adults and seniors will be able to practice and play.
Weekends, meanwhile, will be set aside to play host to national travel tournaments, competitions and other events to generate hotel stays and tax revenues for the county.
The facility’s first weekend tournaments aren’t expected to be booked until around October 2020, Blalock said.
The target is scheduling roughly 25 to 30 weekend events during the first full year and then grow it from there, Blalock said.
He mentioned RADD Sports already has received numerous inquiries from youth and amateur sports organizations asking about the facility’s availability.
“We’ve got ‘em lined up now, wanting to sign,” Blalock said.
The complex also will host a series of weeklong sports camps each July or August, which Blalock said otherwise is a slow period in the travel sports marketplace.
Those camps would allow for local school sports teams to get advanced instruction and match up against teams from all over the country, Blalock said.
“They’re not going to have to travel very much and we’re bringing all the competition in, so it’ll be a good marriage,” he said.
Not unlike nearby AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex figures each year to draw hundreds, if not thousands, of youth and amateur travel sports teams and their families.
Officials are excited about the prospects for Pasco County tourism.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, who chairs the county’s tourist development council, suggests the facility will be “a huge boon for the local economy.”
Said Moore, “People travel from all over the nation to go these tournaments and these facilities. They all have to stay in hotels, they’re all eating in restaurants, they’re all buying the gas.”
Moore said projections show the facility will generate annual revenues of roughly $4 million to $4.5 million each of first five years or so in operation, not including additional hotel and retail tax revenues generated.
The commissioner emphasized that it’s key for those traveling visitors to stay overnight locally instead of heading to Hillsborough County. It’s something he’s assured will happen, pointing out the county already has 38 hotels “with more coming.”
Moore explained: “Previously, when there’s a lot of tournaments that came into the county, a lot of the families were staying in Hillsborough County, so a lot of the local businesses didn’t see that revenue. Well now, we can handle those families, we can handle these tournaments.”
To take it another step further, Moore said the county’s tourism department is developing a marketing campaign to encourage the myriad sports travel teams and visitors to explore the county’s other offerings, outside the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex. The county’s tourism arm officially rebranded itself as “Florida’s Sports Coast” earlier this year.
Said Moore, “We want them to take the day and maybe go rent a boat and go kayaking or go fishing with one of our guides, or hit some of the islands. That’s another benefit for the families coming — great activities outside of the sports or watching their kids play.”
Outdoor offerings on tap, too
The Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex will be more than just an indoor space.
The complex eventually will include seven outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, walking trails, pavilions and a playground. There also will be an adjacent 128-room Marriott Residence Inn built with private funds by Mainsail Development Group.
Many of those features are expected to be finished in Phase II of the project, about a year or so later, officials say.
The entire complex is being built on 80 acres of land donated years ago by the Porter family, developers of Wiregrass Ranch.
Several proposals for some type of sports facility on the land fell apart over the years, including one for a baseball complex in 2015.
But, with the mix of indoor and outdoor components, the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex provides “the biggest bang for our taxpayers’ buck,” Moore said.
“It’ll be a really big thing for the area,” the commissioner said. “When you think about the area, there’s really nothing like this around here at all. And, if you see how well similar facilities do, this is going to be strong.”
He added: “It’s nice to obviously see the progress that’s being made. It won’t be long. It’ll be done before we know it. It’ll sneak right up on us.”
Meanwhile, the complex adds to a growing list of premier sports offerings in the East Pasco area — with construction underway on a multi-million tennis center in Zephyrhills and preliminary plans for a multi-million outdoor aquatics center in Land O’ Lakes. Even Cypress Creek Middle High, in Wesley Chapel, with its a state-of-the-art rubberized running track and field space has been highly regarded for hosting events.
Blalock underscored what all that could mean for the county’s quest to position itself as a sports tourism destination: “For the most part, we’ll be able to run any type of Olympic event in a short radius, and it’s crazy. There’s nowhere I’m aware of in the southeast, or anywhere in the country really, that can really do that.”
He also posited this: “If everyone in the community pulls together and we work together, and all the facilities work together, it could really, truly become an amateur sports destination that equals nowhere else.”
Published September 25, 2019