After three failed attempts since 2001 to build tennis, baseball and outdoor facilities, Pasco County commissioners are poised to make another run at a sports facility in Wiregrass Ranch, this time an indoor complex on 8-10 of the 80 availa
ble acres just east of Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel (FHWC) donated by the Porter family.
The county also is discussing the possibility of the Porter family building and operating outdoor fields and green space adjacent to the indoor facility, which could be used to help with events like Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions lacrosse tournament and rugby, soccer and other outdoor sports events
The commissioners are in the process of preparing a request seeking partners in a private/public partnership to build the indoor facility. Pasco County will contribute $8.5 million to the project in monies raised through its tourist development tax.
The cost to build similar facilities in Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and South Carolina ranged from $12-million to $25 million, according to an 88-page feasibility study put together by Johnson Consulting of Chicago at the request of the Pasco County commissioners.
“Initially, the feasibility study came back and I was a little surprised by the focus on an indoor facility,’’ said District 2 county commissioner Mike Moore. When the Porter family offered to build an adjoining outdoor facility that would be more available to the public at no costs, he was sold.
“That got me really excited,’’ Moore said. “With what the Porter family has proposed, it really gives us the best of both worlds.”
According to Johnson Consulting, the outdoor facility market is saturated but there is a need for indoor facilities. In Florida, there are 25 tournament-quality outdoor facilities. The Wiregrass location would be just the eighth indoor facility.
The complex would go beyond just serving Pasco County residents, said county tourism manager Ed Caum, who sees it as a future hub for surrounding areas looking for a place for youth tournaments.
“This is a very specific complex that will meet the needs of Central Florida, not just Pasco County, and that’s what makes it unique,’’ Caum said, adding he hopes to see the facility eventually host major regional and national tournaments.
The commission held a workshop on Oct. 27 at the Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey, where Johnson Consulting presented its study and made its recommendations.
Johnson Consulting suggests a three-phase project, beginning with a multi-purpose indoor complex between 85,000 and 100,000 square feet on 5-7 acres.
The facility would have 6-8 basketball courts, which could be converted to 12-16 volleyball courts, elevated seating for 500-750, concession stands, 4-6 multipurpose rooms and a sports orthopaedic and healthcare partnership.
The county is negotiating with the Porter family to control the final two phases.
Phase 2 of the project (5-15 acres) would include 3-4 outdoor rectangular multi-purpose fields (two with lights), a Championship area, an interactive playground and splash pads.
Phase 3 (10-15 acres) would incorporate an alternative entertainment zone, indoor skydiving, zip lines, ropes course and driving range.
The remaining 25-35 acres would be for hotel development, themed retail, a community center, active and passive green space for the community, and trails for walking, running and biking.
“Pasco has many key characteristics and requirements to support a multi-use sports complex – namely solid population growth, access to regional, national and international transportation and county household incomes projected to increase at an above-average rate,” the report concluded.
Johnson Consulting, based on the average of other similar facilities in the United States, conservatively estimates more than 100,000 participants using the facility annually. Deficits are projected the first four years, but starting in year six the facility is projected to bring in over $200,000 a year in net profit.
One concern for commissioners is the small number of hotels rooms in the area, which will likely result in tournament participants spending their money in Hillsborough County. According to Johnson Consulting, there are 3,474 hotel rooms within at least 11 miles of the proposed location, though 800 of those are in Saddlebrook and only 322 are in Wesley Chapel.
Caum, however, said a Holiday Inn Express is scheduled to open in January, adding 75 rooms and 12 suites, and two other hotels slated for the 54/56 corridor are in the permitting process. And according to the Urban Land Institute, over the next five years the county will add 75-100 hotel rooms annually.
Moore thinks despite past failures, the latest proposal has an excellent chance to succeed.
“This is the perfect scenario,’’ he said. “We are going to make sure when we are accepting these bids that the funding is available. I’m confident it will work, and everyone seems pretty excited.”