By Matt Wiley

The search is on for which companies will construct and operate the planned “Fields At Wiregrass” project, which received the go-ahead from Pasco County last November.

The bidding opened on January 15 for the sports complex project, which will be built with $14 million in County tourism funds on more than 200 acres of land inside the Wiregrass Ranch DRI (Development of Regional Impact) that has been donated by the Porter family. Companies interested in both designing the complex and maintaining and operating it have until February 15 to submit their proposals.

Although the bidding period has been open for nearly three weeks (as of our press time), Pasco purchasing director Scott Stromer says that not many bids have yet been submitted.

“We won’t see many bids until the last few days,” Stromer explains. “That’s when we’ll get a feel for how many proposals we’ll have to look at.”

Two separate listings currently appear on the county’s solicitation website, one for the design of the park, and one for its management, operation and maintenance.

Stromer says that with both listings out at the same time, it will be easier for the designer and operator to communicate with each other, as well as with the county, to put together a plan that works for the Fields.

“This will make the process run more smoothly,” Stromer says. “It’s much easier having (the designer and operator) working together.”

He says that it will be much more efficient than having a design in place and then having to find an operator, or vice versa.

The County has several requirements that it will be looking to satisfy when considering design proposals.

Among these, included in the design must be eight, 300-ft.-fenced and fully-lighted baseball fields, each with electronic scoreboards, Major League Baseball-style dugouts and bleachers, one “championship stadium,” multi-purpose turf fields to accommodate soccer and lacrosse, walking/biking trails, a playground area, a 400-car parking lot, plus several other requirements. The designer also would be responsible for the infrastructure design for the entire complex and a recommendation of whether to use real grass for the fields, or AstroTurf.

Stromer says that a committee made up of senior County staff, at least one County Commissioner and a representative from the Parks and Recreation department will review the design proposals, but he added that the list of possible committee members is still undecided.

“The design proposals will be completely qualification-based,” Stromer explains. “We want to find a company with lots of experience building something like this.”

However, he says, cost will definitely be an issue for the operation and maintenance proposals.

For operations and maintenance, Stromer says that proposals must include an analysis of the company itself, as well as a summary of the company’s concept for running the complex, proof that there is a market for the proposed concept, identification of the company’s advantage against competition in the region, as well as a marketing, operations and finance plan. Most important is that the company must provide at least ten percent of the cost to construct the complex and will have to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement with the County, if chosen.

“The operations side is more of a business review of the company making the proposal,” Stromer explains. “It’s pretty intensive. We’ll send the information off to an economist to run the numbers on the offers that we get.”

The County will spend 60-90 days going through both types of proposals, although Stromer says that the process may be expedited.

On February 15, all bids will be sealed for 30 days, after which, they will become public record. If the company cannot find partners to design and operate the facility within 24 months, it will instead become a district park.

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