By Matt Wiley

If everything ends up going according to plan, as of May 7, Pasco County should have become the proud new owner of nearly 140 acres of land inside the Wiregrass Ranch Development of Regional Impact (DRI), donated by the Porter family, which owns the 5,000-acre DRI in the heart of Wesley Chapel.

At a special meeting of the Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on April 30, the Board voted 5-0 to approve the deal with the Porters, which would set aside 138 acres of land in Wiregrass for a world-class sports facility. The closing of the deal, which was still being completed before the meeting and given until May 7 (which was after our press time) to be completed, puts an end to a negotiation process that has gone on for more than one year.

“To use a cliché from the county administrator (John Gallagher), ‘sometimes it takes time to make a fine wine,’ and I know this has been a long, arduous process that we’ve gone through,” said BOCC chairman Ted Schrader, who was thanking both the Porters (for not only the land, but also for 100,000 cubic yards of fill dirt), and senior assistant county attorney Jane Fagan for her “work in the trenches,” before the unanimous vote.

Once the deal is closed, negotiations will get under way with Blue Marble Strategic, LLC, the company with which the County currently is in talks to build the sports complex. Talks had been at a standstill until the county officially acquired the land from the Porters.

Blue Marble, in its initial proposal, stated that it would cost the county only about $8.5 million of Pasco’s tourism funds to construct its design of the park. Pasco officials already had planned to spend no more than $14 million on the proposed complex.

Due to the lower cost to the county of building the new park, the BOCC recently voted to allocate up to $2 million in tourism funds to expand the Wesley Chapel District Park, located on Boyette Rd. The expansion will add two Astroturf fields for soccer and lacrosse to the park, which will honor a contract with the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions, an annual lacrosse tournament held in January, to keep the business-driving competition in Pasco.

“We reached an agreement with (the Dick’s tournament) to extend the current agreement, but in that agreement, we promised we would have a new facility available (for the tournament) for January 2015,” Comm. Schrader says. “So, to do that, we needed either to solidify something at Wiregrass, or move on the expansion of Wesley Chapel District Park.”

Schrader says that Pasco was able to purchase some excess land located next to the District Park for the expansion from the Pasco utility department through an enterprise fund (which establishes a separate accounting and financial reporting mechanism for government-provided services for which a fee is charged in exchange for goods or services..

“The championship-quality turf fields should allow us to hopefully continue to provide the venue for the Dick’s tournament, as well as to attract other events to that facility,” Comm. Schrader said. “The excess dollars in the tourism development fund (that was being used for the ‘Fields’) allowed us to make this happen. It shouldn’t affect the Wiregrass deal at all. The Wiregrass ‘Fields’ are going to directly complement the fields at the Wesley Chapel District Park.”


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