The spacious, bio-cushioned hardwood floors sparkle under the lights.
The multisport electronic scoreboards operate without a hitch.
The myriad ceiling-hung basketball goals and volleyball nets are mechanically lowered and raised in minutes.
The centralized cheerleading/dance springboard floor is square for stunts and tumbling. Adjacent outdoor multi-use grass fields are manicured and marked up for soccer, lacrosse and other events.
Put another way, the highly-anticipated Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County is finally open and ready for play, at 3211 Lajuana Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
With 98,000 square feet of indoor space, the complex is hyped as a destination for local youth, school teams and adult athletes, while also playing host to a diverse set of regional, national and international level sports tournaments year-round.
The $29 million field house is the centerpiece of a $44 million public-private project. Ultimately, it will be phased to include seven outdoor multi-use fields and a 128-room hotel situated 80 acres of land donated by the Porter family, one of the area’s leading cattle ranchers who established Wiregrass Ranch in 1942. The sports campus is funded with county tourist tax development dollars, while the adjacent hotel will be funded and constructed via private capital from Mainsail Development Group.
An Aug. 27 grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony offered an in-depth look of the state-of-the-art facility that the county hopes will be a game-changing tourism draw for years to come.
The multi-use sports complex, which features 37-foot-high ceilings, is large enough to hold either 16 volleyball games or eight full-court basketball games at any given time.
It’s two 35,500-square-foot gyms are separated by a cheer/dance studio, athletic training center and second-level mezzanine. Spacious floors can be converted to accommodate other sports, such as pickleball (up to 16 courts), futsal (up to eight courts), as well as large-scale wrestling, mixed martial arts (MMA) or karate tournaments.
Versatility and flexibility are key aspects of the complex’s design. For instance, one side of the gym could be used for a volleyball tournament, while the other side could be used for another sport or even a convention.
Other notable amenities include an educational lab, full-service kitchen, a concessions area aptly titled “Fast Break,” and snack bar, “Power Alley,” both situated in the lobby.
Designed to attract athletes, from near and far
The birth of the campus dates back to 2001, when a feasibility study identified the county as a possible sports tourism hotspot.
Concrete plans for the multi-purpose athletic center didn’t come together until 2015.
The facility officially broke ground in June 2018.
Pasco County Commissioner and Pasco County Tourist Development Council Chairman Mike Moore labeled the project “a huge milestone” for the area.
“This isn’t a dream on paper anymore — it’s actually happening right in front of us, ” Moore said at the grand opening ceremony.
“It’s a beautiful facility. It’s no longer a construction site, it’s now the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County.
“It was a long road to get here, and it took a shared vision and commitment from this County Commission that we have here, the Tourist Development Council, and a very, very generous family,” Moore said.
The athletics campus is a public-private partnership between the county, who owns the land and facility, and RADD Sports, a private sports management company tasked with handling day-to-day programming, maintenance and operations.
Moore noted the importance of such a partnership: “A county government, let’s be honest, isn’t set up to effectively run a facility like this. That’s probably the last thing you want ever to happen, is a county government to run a facility like this.”
The complex will be open for public use and local leagues Monday through Thursday, while Friday through Sunday will generally be reserved for attracting out-of-area tournaments.
The youth and amateur sports industry has quickly taken notice of all the frills.
The venue has booked 53 events or tournaments across the next 42 weekends, according to RADD Sports CEO Richard Blalock. That so far encompasses basketball, cheerleading, futsal, gymnastics, karate, volleyball, and wrestling; upwards of 17 different sports could be effectively at the complex, officials say.
It’s very first hosted event was a South Florida-based boys travel basketball tournament, which generated 500 room nights booked for the county.
“During a pandemic, that’s really strong,” Moore said, adding the number of bookings already scheduled is “really, really incredible.”
Said Moore: “The people that come here are going to stay in our hotels, which they already have. They’re going to eat at our restaurants. They’re going to shop at our Pasco County stores. And, it’s not just the athletes that are competing that’ll be doing that, it’s their families, it’s their friends, and it’s the spectators.”
Meanwhile, a team of RADD athletic directors/coaches with extensive professional backgrounds will help run local programming in the arenas of cheer, gymnastics, soccer, basketball and volleyball — the primary sports focus of the complex. That includes afterschool programs, camps, recreation leagues and so on.
With talents and skills that’s taken them to sports’ highest levels nationally and internationally, even they were awestruck by the complex’s diverse amenities.
“There’s no other facility like it, not in the Southeast, and maybe not even the country,” said basketball director Ronnie Outen, a former Division I hooper at West Virginia University who spent 15 years playing professionally overseas in Austria, Italy and Lebanon, among other countries.
Outen specifically observed the benefits of the facility’s second-floor mezzanine, which offers “a bird’s eye view” of every game in action — a plus for college recruiters, scouts, family members and so on.
“A lot of places have a lot of courts, but they’re not centrally, strategically placed where you can just get a view of the whole facility in one specific location,” he said.
Former Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell is heading up the campus’ indoor futsal and outdoor soccer programming. With seven full-sized outdoor fields and hotel coming online within walking distance, he believes the space is worthy enough to host year-round residencies for professional soccer teams overseas.
“I know where I’m from, I certainly didn’t have anything like this,” said Campbell, a former English Premier soccer player from the United Kingdom. “I think we’ve opened ourselves and Pasco County up to the opportunity of bringing in professional soccer teams.”
Some of the complex’s finer details, such as heavy-duty commercial rollup doors to conveniently load and offload equipment, makes it ever more appealing to lure some headline tournaments and become the flagship for others.
“They spared no expense,” Matt McDonough, the facility’s senior director of cheer and event development, said. “There’s really so much you can do with this. You can rock and roll with a giant wrestling tournament here, judo, fencing. I think they even planned for archery.”
For more information, visit Wiregrass-sports.com.
Published September 02, 2020