By Matt Wiley
“If you build it, they will come.” At least, that is the hope of the Pasco Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Porter family, who have finally reached an agreement for the “Fields at Wiregrass,” a multi-use sports complex that is to be constructed along S.R. 56 in Wesley Chapel.
During the BOCC meeting on November 7, the Board, Pasco administrator John Gallagher and the Porter family came to a final agreement on the project before it fell apart.
In the original deal, county officials agreed to pay for the $14-million sports complex using nearly all of Pasco’s tourism funds. In exchange, the Porter family agreed to donate 46 acres of land in Wiregrass Ranch, build the facility, as well as operate it.
Since that original proposal, however, negotiations regarding operations and revenue brought the project to a standstill. The Porters no longer wished to build or operate the facility, but would still donate the land, as well as 100,000 cubic yards of “fill dirt” for the project, as long as the County would take over construction and operation costs, and include “Wiregrass” in the name of the complex.
Despite some disagreement during the meeting, the Board approved the project by a 4-1 vote, although District 5 Commissioner Jack Mariano was not convinced.
“I think this deal is significantly changed, and I’m not comfortable spending (so much of) the tourism funds on the project,” he said during the meeting. “We keep taking step back after step back.” However, his fellow Commissioners did not share Mariano’s opposition to the project.
“It’s important that we move ahead (with the project),” said District 2 commissioner Pat Mulieri. “Wesley Chapel is an economic engine. There may be some hiccups along the way, but that’s a lot of property (that the Porters are donating).”
The rest of the project will be Pasco’s responsibility, as the county will have to find a builder for the park and a company to operate it. If this can’t be done within 24 months, under the agreement, the land will be used as a district park.