After years of staring at renderings and blue prints and imagining what the new sports complex in Wiregrass Ranch will actually look like, general manager and RADD Sports CEO Richard Blalock’s vision is now coming into focus.
The Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County is no longer just a large patch of cleared land, it has gone vertical, and the current schedule is looking towards a July 10, 2020, completion.
After three failed efforts since 2001 to build an athletic complex on the property located northeast of the Shops at Wiregrass and two miles east of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., off S.R. 56, the 98,000-sq.-ft. indoor gymnasium is on its way.
Blalock, however, is not letting his excitement get the best of him. While the $45-million facility — which will share a campus with a full-service, Marriott-branded, 120-room Residence Inn hotel featuring a rooftop bar — is a big part of transforming the Wesley Chapel area — and Pasco County — into even more of a sports tourism hotbed, he intends to proceed slowly out of the gate.
“We’ve got people lined up that want to sign a contract now,” says Blalock.
He is proceeding, though, like a quarterback with plenty of time on the clock. It’s not that he doubts the projection. But, he’s leery of Florida’s cranky wet weather that often slows down construction, most recently during Hurricane Dorian’s trip through the Atlantic.
“We had to take all of the cranes down,” says Jannah Nager, who was recently hired as RADD Sports’ director of marketing after working for more than four years as the marketing and events coordinator at the Pasco Education Foundation. She is the wife of Neighborhood News publisher Gary Nager.
With more bad weather lurking, it may not be the last time the cranes and other equipment have to be removed from the site for safety reasons.
“Everybody is beating us up, ‘When are you going to start booking events?,’” Blalock says. “But, I will not start booking events until after this hurricane season. Once the roof is on, or the side panels, I’ll be more comfortable.”
Blalock says a new facility in North Carolina jumped the gun on its opening and, thanks to Hurricane Dorian, had to postpone that opening.
“That’s the last thing we can afford to have happen here,” he says.
By October of 2020, Blalock says, he hopes to have events ready to go at the new facility, which broke ground in June of 2018. He hopes to book at least 25 events in the first 12 months the sports facility is running. Nager’s job is to help spread the word in the community while marketing the facility to sponsors.
“Jannah knows the community, she knows the people, she knows the ins and out, and she knows the politicians,” said Blalock. “We need somebody that knows community and is popular in the community. That makes our job so much easier.”
The primary sports at the new complex will be basketball and volleyball, and cheerleading is expected to be the third core sport at the facility, which can run eight basketball courts or 16 volleyball courts at any one time.
There also is room for multiple mats for wrestling and judo tournaments, with gymnastics also a possibility. Blalock said he even has been contacted by a youth soccer team in the United Kingdom that is interested in training for a few weeks at the new facility, which will have two outdoor soccer fields and plenty of room to train inside if the weather turns bad.
Local Use During The Week!
Weekend sports tournaments, however, will be just part of the big picture at the new facility.
Blalock says there will be plenty of sports programming for local athletes to participate in, too. He says there will be a three-tier system for each of its three core sports — Academy, Competitive and Development — which will allow opportunities for all level of athletes starting at the age of 9 and going all the way through high school
The Academy will be for training elite athletes for travel teams, but will also include an educational component and require participants to maintain a certain grade-point-average. He says the sports will be programmed to not interfere with the local high school seasons.
“The ultimate goal is to change the culture of how these kids are trained,” Blalock says, adding that it is well-documented that youth sports are susceptible to being overrun by overzealous coaches and parents, as well as entitled athletes.
The Competitive program also will be in-house, with three days a week of practices and games — and the chance for advancement to the Academy level, Blalock says.
The Developmental program will be “quasi-recreational,” according to Blalock. Volunteer coaches will run the teams, although those coaches will have plenty of access to paid coaches on the complex’s paid sports staff to help develop more drills and gameplans.
The programming also will be competitively priced with the local market, according to Blalock.
For those who like sports but don’t play for whatever reason, the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus will offer a Sports Administration & Hospitality program, where kids can gather data, travel with the teams and serve as managers.
And, now that ground has broken on a nearby 55-over community in Wiregrass Ranch (see story on pg. 8), more programming for older residents also may be in the offing, like pickleball and Rock Steady Boxing for those with Parkinson’s disease. There may even be room for some golf cart parking spots, Blalock says.
In addition to its youth and adult sports programs, the facility is able to provide space for conventions, banquets and other non-sports events.
Blalock and Nager are putting together sponsorship packages now, and also are accepting resumes for positions, although Blalock stresses that the actual hiring process is likely several months away.
For more information about sponsorships and more, visit RADDSports.com or email Jannah@raddsports.com.