In the past, Wiregrass Ranch developer JD Porter had been so frustrated by the failures of Pasco County to figure out what to do with the 80 acres of land of S.R. 56 in Wesley Chapel donated by his family that he quipped they might just take it back.
However, these days, Porter is all smiles.
He was among a group of local dignitaries and media on Jan. 28 invited to tour that 80 acres of land, or more specifically, the still-under-construction $44-million Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County that now stands tall upon it.
“It’s really good to see it actually come to fruition and come out of the ground,” said Porter, who has championed some kind of athletic facility on the property for nearly two decades. “Sometimes, patience is required.”
While the indoor/outdoor sports complex won’t be completed until July, it is beginning to take shape. With a little imagination, you could almost hear the squeaking of shoes and swishing of basketball nets as Ajax Building Corp. project manager Marshall Quarles led a dozen or so media members through the massive, 98,000-sq.-ft. structure.
Although he sees the facility quite frequently, Richard Blalock, the CEO/founder of RADD Sports, said it never gets old to him.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said Blalock, whose private company is managing the complex, which is a private-public partnership with Pasco.
RADD Sports beat out three other companies in 2016 for the right to develop the property, ending years of frustration.
However, what was originally earmarked to be a national tennis center back in 2001, and after that, a failed attempt headed up by former Major League Baseball star Gary Sheffield to build 19 baseball fields with on-site dormitories in 2015, is now just months away from opening as potentially the premier sports complex in Florida.
The state-of-the-art indoor sports facility primarily will be home to basketball (the building can be configured as eight regulation-sized courts), volleyball (up to 16 courts) and cheerleading, although Blalock says it can be configured to accommodate as many as 14 different sports.
The building also will house a large fitness area, kitchen, concession stand and various meeting and training rooms.
To the left (and south) of the main entrance into the indoor facility will be two outdoor soccer fields, and there also is room for an open-air amphitheater, playgrounds and can host concerts and other outdoor events.
As part of the project, Mainsail Development Group, Inc. will build a four-story, 128-room Residence Inn by Marriott just a few feet from the sports campus’ main entrance, according to site plans filed with the county on Jan. 22.
Another hotel, a Fairfield Inn, opened on adjacent Wiregrass Ranch property in 2018 and is within walking distance of the facility.
The sports campus is expected to be a huge boon for Pasco’s growing sports tourism, which was re-branded as the “Florida Sports Coast” last year.
Adam Thomas, the county’s tourism director, said that Pasco drew more than one million tourists last year, and 87 percent indicated they would return for future vacations.
Thomas also said he believed that once the facility has been completed, people will be lining up from all over the country to get their youth sporting events hosted there. The campus is scheduled to host a volleyball tournament in September to kick things off, with a half-dozen more tournaments already on the schedule.
“The wow factor is definitely there when you walk in,” Thomas said. “It’s not even done, and you can see the magnitude of this facility.”
The $17-billion youth sports market in the U.S. continues to grow, and the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County is poised to grab its share of that market on the weekends. However, Blalock also said that the local community will also be served by the facility, especially during the week.
“We’re excited to have it open at 6 a.m. with local seniors, all the way to 10 p.m. with the kids, and then the weekends (with youth sports events),” Blalock says. “We’re excited about all of it.”
Blalock, the former recreation director for the city of Newberry, FL, said this is the biggest project RADD Sports has tackled. He also said that architects and engineers developed a facility in Alachua where the basic design is similar, but the Wiregrass Ranch campus is almost three-times larger. In fact, he hopes the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County will become the model for future projects, and he envisions building four more in Florida.
“This is the prototype,” he said. “We hope these plans can go on the shelf (when we’re done) and we can just pull them and keep going.”
From tennis courts to baseball diamonds to basketball, volleyball and cheerleading, the journey has been a long one. Porter, however, says it couldn’t have ended any better. He looks forward to seeing how the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County impacts the area, and is glad the final product didn’t just focus on singular sports, like the previous tennis and baseball projects, but rather became a facility that offers something for everyone.
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding projects to come out of the ground here,” Porter said. “We took this project and said, ‘Hey, how can we retool this to make it benefit everybody?’ We came back (with something) that is probably much better than what anyone envisioned 10-15 years ago.”
For sponsorship and other information about the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, email Jannah@RADDSports.com or visit RADDSports.com.