By Matt Wiley

More than six months after the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) unanimously approved a project that could bring a home for a Major League Baseball Spring Training facility and youth baseball tournaments to the Wiregrass Ranch Development of Regional Impact (DRI), an extension has been given to the company that must prove that financing is available to fund the impressive planned sports complex.

During the July 8 BOCC meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to grant a 90-day extension to Pasco Sports, LLC (also known as Blue Marble Strategic, LLC), the company bringing the sports facility to the 200 acres of land that was donated by the Porter family, which Pasco Sports partner James Talton says now could cost up to $60 million. Talton appeared at the meeting with the most recent addition to his team, retired MLB star outfielder and Tampa native Gary Sheffield.

Sheffield told the Board that he had been approached about helping develop a similar baseball facility in the past along the I-4 corridor near Walt DisneyWorld, but walked away because the project seemed too large.

“This project popped up and it was exactly what I was looking for,” Sheffield told the Board. “It’s the right amount of acreage and the right size.”

Sheffield said that since he’s gotten involved with Talton’s project, MLB officials have taken notice and want to help push the project along. Talton says that MLB has shown interest in hosting its Diversity Business Partners events at the complex, which promote business partnerships with minority- and women-owned companies.

“(MLB) is very excited about what we’re doing,” Sheffield said. 

Talton says that during the course of the 90-day extension, Pasco Sports will be working to finish up the underwriting on several proposals from private lenders that will help secure the necessary financing for the project.

Pasco County agreed last year to shell out up to $11 million in tourism taxes and bond proceeds to help make the facility a reality, with Talton responsible for putting together the rest of the funding from the private sector. 

Another one of Talton’s new partners, Chuck White, of IBC Baseball League (which hosts more than 150 events around world each year), says he is in talks with 54 other organizations that run week-long baseball events for high school-level kids. 

“We want to get a representative from each organization on our Advisory Board to help make this (facility) a center base for all of their major events in the future,” White said.

Dist. 1 Comm. Ted Schrader made the motion to grant the extension.

“Ninety days is not going to get us off any kind of schedule,” Schrader told his fellow Board members. 

Schrader also brought up that the facility could seriously assist the baseball player recruitment process, as well, adding that it would provide a spot for college coaches to see high school players in one spot, instead of having to travel all over the country. It’s the same for professional scouts, he said.

 “I’m really excited about the synergy going on in Wesley Chapel, with the ice rink and now baseball,” said Dist. 3 Comm. Kathryn Starkey. “We could be the youth sports mecca.”

Dist. 4 Comm. Henry Wilson also shared excitement for the project.

“I was cautiously optimistic at first,” Wilson admitted. “But, I’m glad it’s coming to fruition. I have no problem granting the 90 days.”

Although not related to the baseball complex project, according to numerous published reports, Talton recently was named in a lawsuit filed by Scrub Island Development Group (SIDG — his previous employer, which was developing a resort in the British Virgin Islands), against FirstBank Puerto Rico. SIDG is in the process of filing for bankruptcy in Tampa and alleges that Talton was secretly sending the bank confidential information about SIDG’s financial troubles via email. Talton declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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