Pasco County commissioners approved a 2 percent increase in the tourism tax and cleared the way to finance construction of the Wiregrass Sports Complex of Pasco County.
The added revenues will be used as collateral to secure a construction loan of up to $15 million for a 98,000-square-foot multi-purpose indoor sports venue.
The tax increase is on top of an existing 2 percent tax collected on hotel rentals, often described as the “heads in beds” tax. At a total of 4 percent, Pasco’s tourism tax rate will remain lower than most other counties in Tampa Bay.
County commissioners also approved a series of resolutions setting up the framework for a private/public partnership between Pasco, which will own the complex, and RADD Sports, which will operate and manage the facility.
The county will receive lease payments and share in profits generated from the sports complex.
Besides the indoor facility, seven outdoor sports fields, an amphitheater with an event lawn, trails, pavilions and a playground are planned.
County commissioners also approved a ground lease for a 128-room Marriott Residence Inn to be built on about 2 acres within the complex. Mainsail Lodge and Development will build the hotel at an estimated cost of $18.5 million.
Funding for the sports complex also will come from about $11 million collected from previously pledged tourism dollars and sales tax revenues.
“I think it’s time we put this money in the bank to work,” said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. “It’s long overdue that we took the leap and did something big with this money.”
Several years ago, the Porter family – developers of Wiregrass Ranch – donated more than 200 acres near The Shops at Wiregrass for the sports complex. But, proposals to build on the land fell apart, including one for an outdoor baseball complex.
“We know what happened in the past – nothing,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore. “This is a test in showing cohesiveness, that we’re all working together.”
During public comment, Hope Allen, president of The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, and Steve Domonkos of the Wiregrass mall, spoke in favor of increasing the tourism tax.
“We’re really becoming a sports tournament destination,” said Domonkos. “That sets us apart from other parts of Florida. It benefits the community as a whole.”
The vote to increase the tourism tax passed unanimously, but it stirred debate among county commissioners.
“It’s important that we get our fair share,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells Jr.
He sought money for boat ramps and for boosting the scalloping industry.
Mariano wanted money for beach re-nourishment, pointing out a need at Sun West Park. He also said the county’s tourism development council needed to give its opinion before county commissioners voted on the matter.
The council, which is an advisory board, had a meeting the day after the county commission voted. County commissioners declined to delay their votes.
Mariano later was the lone dissenter in voting against the agreement for RADD Sports to operate the sports complex. He objected to the loan arrangements, preferring that RADD Sports do its own financing.
“We shouldn’t be putting tourism money there,” Mariano said.
County officials noted that the tourism dollars are pledged as collateral. “If they (RADD Sports) perform well, you may not even have to dip into there,” said David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney for Pasco.
The lease agreement requires RADD Sports to pay the county $60,000, or 11 percent of gross revenues. The funds can be used to repay the loan.
The county also will benefit from new tourism dollars. Officials with the county’s Economic Development Office estimate that 80 percent of hotel rentals will come from off-site hotels.
Construction or proposals for more hotels are expected to significantly increase the county’s hotel room inventory.
In addition, the county, RADD Sports and the Porter family reached agreement on road work and ball fields.
At least one field will be open to the public at least 90 percent of the time. The remaining fields will be accessible to residents of Wiregrass.
The Porters will speed up roadwork, including a link from the sports complex to State Road 54 to the north.
“We do believe it’s a win-win for the county,” Goldstein said.
Published August 23, 2017