Tourism is ramping up in Pasco County and considerable roadwork is underway, too, to make it easier for motorists to get around.
Those were the main messages delivered by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore at a meeting of the East Pasco Networking Group.
Moore, chairman of the Pasco County Tourist Development Council, described how well the 98,000-square-foot Wiregrass Sports Campus of Pasco County has been performing, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sports complex, at 3211 Lajuana Blvd., in Wesley Chapel, has been attracting youth and amateur sporting events year-round since its August 2020 opening.
The indoor space can accommodate up to 17 different sports — including basketball, volleyball and cheerleading, or pickleball, futsal, wrestling, mixed martial arts, karate and others.
This widespread flexibility has seemingly been put to good use, with weekdays set aside for residents and weekends generally reserved for large-scale tournaments that can become family affairs, as parents and siblings road trip together.
Moore observed the complex is “constantly full.”
“Every single weekend there is a tournament there where people are coming from somewhere else,” he said. “There’s weekends where we get over 2,000 room nights for those tournaments. So, what happens? Hoteliers are obviously happy, supplying those jobs for our hotels. Those small businesses, restaurants, retail, gas pumps – everybody’s benefiting when you bring those people here.”
Moore also pointed to AdventHealth Center Ice, which has continued to be a major draw since opening in January 2017, at 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., in Wesley Chapel.
At 150,000 square feet, it’s the largest ice sports facility in the southeastern United States, with four full-size rinks and one kid-size rink.
It’s regarded for being the training grounds of the 2018 U.S. women’s national hockey team that went on to win an Olympic gold medal in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“The ice rink is incredible,” Moore said. “They have tournaments on the weekends, international tournaments, and people coming from Canada, South America, people coming from over in Europe to literally play hockey right here at Center Ice.”
Moore posited that such youth, amateur and community-focused facilities can yield very similar — if not greater — economic impact as a major professional sports franchise, such as the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which plays eight regular season home games, plus a few preseason and postseason contests.
“Those (facilities) have just as large of an impact as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing on Sunday, when you think about how many people are (cumulatively) traveling for those events, and especially when they’re every single weekend.
“Personally I think it’s so much better to have these types of facilities than a pro sports team, because it’s a year-round benefit for the businesses in Pasco County, not just eight times a year or 10 times a year.
“These people, they’re traveling with their families, too. These kids aren’t typically driving on their own, their whole family’s coming (to Pasco).”
Moore addressed other recreational and tourism developments, as well, such as the ongoing construction of a visitor’s center/bike hub in the heart of downtown Dade City, across from the Roy T. Hardy trailhead, at the corner of Church Avenue and Eighth Street.
The $250,000 project — expected to be complete in June — was funded by the county’s tourist development tax dollars.
The amenity is set to further motivate beginner and avid cyclists alike to stop in Dade City.
It also may serve as a driver for more organized road cycling races to the surrounding East Pasco area, too.
“We know how big biking is in this area,” Moore said. “You’ve got people coming from all over the country to Dade City, to ride those hills.”
Further on the tourism and recreation front, Moore mentioned an 18,000-square-foot indoor recreation center at Wesley Chapel District Park will be complete in July. The public-use facility will offer programming for basketball, volleyball and other activities for all ages. There’s meeting room space for clubs and other organizations, also. “That’s going to be beautiful,” Moore said of the forthcoming center.
Regarding road construction, Moore pointed out that many of the roads that traverse the county are state roads — and a considerable amount of work is being done to improve those roads.
Among them are construction projects on State Road 52, State Road 54, and an interchange improvement at State Road 56 and Interstate 75.
There’s also a new diamond interchange that will include a flyover ramp for westbound Overpass Road access onto southbound I-75.
To accommodate the new interchange, Overpass Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes between the interstate and Old Pasco Road, and six lanes between the interstate and Boyette Road. Blair Drive will be realigned to connect with Old Pasco Road. McKendree Road will be realigned to connect with Boyette Road.
The $64 million design-built project aims to provide more relief to other exits off I-75, Moore said.
“When you think about people living in Dade City and San Antonio, and coming and living in that area, they’ll be able to get off that new overpass interchange and go right through Epperson Ranch and Connected City, and get right into Dade City, if they don’t want to take the next Dade City exit.”
Moore added the project’s contractor, The Middlesex Corporation, “is moving really fast,” with an estimated completion of summer 2023.
Meanwhile, the commissioner mentioned the county has another $6 million in state funds to support connection and widening projects along the U.S. 98/U.S. 301 corridor.
These “important” roadway upgrades should help alleviate freight truck traffic and allow for the movement of goods without jumping major highways, he explained.
Combined with the proximity to the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, CSX Transportation Railroad, and an emerging light industrial manufacturing hub, the roadway plan “really helps when you think about the economy in this area,” he said.
Published May 19, 2021