Mediation is scheduled for Monday.
Pasco County is looking to take over the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus, but the company that currently runs it, RADDSports, is claiming that Pasco — primarily Florida Sports Coast director Adam Thomas — has used bogus claims to force RADD out or into a reduced role.
The two sides are at odds over how the facility, which opened in July of 2020 but officially opened in January 2021, is being run and the results of those early efforts.
The county’s Board of Commissioners (BOC) approved a Notice of Default, originally written by Thomas, as part of its Consent Agenda at the BOC’s Oct. 25th meeting, without any discussion. Included was the okay to pay Tampa law firm Carlton Fields up to $200,000 to handle the default case, as well as more than $2.8 million to cover the potential cost of the takeover plan.
Although RADDSports’ lawyers were under the impression that the two sides would be able to meet before the default notice was sent, it was delivered on Nov. 4 by attorney Dane Blunt of Carlton Fields.
“The notice claims that RADDSports is in default of a handful of sections of the contract the two sides originally signed,” said Blunt’s letter.
However, the letter stated that it is the county’s option to allow RADDSports to continue operating the sports campus and that, “RADDSports is in full control of the future” provided it undergo a ‘radical shift in (its) current operations, promotion, and marketing’ to attain compliance with the contract.”
Anthony Homer, the chief operating officer for RADDSports, told county commissioners at the Oct. 25 meeting that he and his company were eager to come to the table and work out any differences, and appeared to be blindsided by the delivery of the Nov. 4 Notice of Default letter.
Homer also attended the Nov. 15 BOC meeting and delivered RADDSports’ refutation of the Notice of Default in person. Commissioners voted unanimously to allow it into record, but again, with no discussion
He told the commissioners they had been misled and that some data had been misrepresented at the Oct. 25 meeting, and that they approved a Notice of Default “for which the county had no support.”
Homer said he was told by the county’s attorneys after the Oct. 25 meeting that the notice of default would not be issued and, instead, discussions would be held to settle the matter.
“Since then, the county has refused to engage in any substantive discussion,” Homer said. “It has not provided any data upon which it based its claims to put RADDSports in default and, despite saying otherwise, on Nov. 4, the county’s attorneys issued (RADD) a Notice of Default.”
The Nov. 4 notice, says Homer, was different than the one the commissioners voted on at the Oct. 25 meeting, as specific data was removed after RADD supplied the correct data. And, in RADD’s letter of refutation given to the BOC, more data was provided to prove the county had been using incorrect information to make its case.
In fact, Homer said, when it comes to the county’s claims that RADDSports has focused on local residents and events and hasn’t appealed to tourists, the county paid $30,000 to Zartico, a data intelligence company that focuses on the visitor economy, to do a custom analysis of the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus visitor-to-resident ratio.
“(Zartico’s report) actually confirmed the data we had previously provided,” Homer said. “So, it’s now obvious that the county has no support for its claim that RADDSports is in default and is asserting its claims in bad faith.”
Homer said the claims made by the county were unfairly damaging the reputation of RADDSports and were making it harder to book events. He asked that the BOC vote to immediately revoke the Notice of Default.
He didn’t get the vote he requested, but Homer and RADDSports will still be getting a chance to make their case.
In the Nov. 4 default letter, Blunt wrote that, “At this time, the County believes it is in the best interest of both parties’ to mediate their disputes pursuant to the Agreement.”
A mediation with retired Judge Gregory Holder has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 28, and Blunt said the county plans to participate.
“We ask that RADDSports come to mediation prepared to share with the county its detailed, written plan for future compliance with the Agreement,” Blunt said.
RADD will make its defense that most of the claims in the Notice of Default are false, as it already has in multiple letters to the county and to Carlton Fields.
If the contract between the county and RADDSports, which has 18 years remaining on it, is terminated by Pasco, it likely will result in an expensive legal battle.
RADD president & CEO Richard Blalock said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“RADDSports remains willing to work with the County and all stakeholders,” Blalock wrote. “The cloud of a bogus Notice of Default will not help those discussions, but will lead to litigation that will be expensive to both parties and hinder the mutually beneficial resolution of the County’s perceived issues.”
And, in his Nov. 14 letter to the commissioners, Homer said, “That the county would allocate $2.8M to take over operations of a facility RADDSports operates at no cost (to the county) is simply mind boggling. We can only imagine there are areas in the County which would be delighted to see that invested in additional parks and recreation offerings.”
Here are the portions of the contract between RADDSports & Pasco County that the county claims RADDSports has defaulted on & RADD’s responses to each claim:
Claim #1 — RADD has not continuously operated the Sports Park Property to ensure that 90% of the 80% annual average of participants and non-participants….are non-County residents.
RADD’s Response — RADD President and CEO Richard Blalock said in his company’s refutation letter that the county has no supporting data for this claim, and that RADDSports has provided data from a “credible, billion dollar, national 3rd party data provider” to Thomas that shows RADDSports has exceeded those targets and is not in default.
Claim #2 — RADDSports’ events have resulted in hotel stays that are “well short” of what is needed.
RADD’s Response — RADDSports says it is not to blame for Covid restrictions (as well as the number of people not ready to return to traveling) in 2020 and 2021, but regardless, had 74,400 non-county visits in 2021 (3.7 times more than required) and 59,000 non-county visits through three quarters of 2022 (2.8 times more than required). Blalock calls this claim “particularly egregious” considering the data Pasco received from Zartico (which it also says Florida Sports Coast never told them about) shows the number of out-of-county visitors has increased every year and 83 percent of those visitors required overnight stays.
Claim #3 — RADDSports has failed to promote and market the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus as it relates to promoting tourism, based on a review of RADDSports’ Facebook and Instagram posts and newsletters.
RADD’s Response — RADDSports claims that the county is misreading the contract, which states that it is Pasco County’s responsibility to market the facility, and other than obligating RADDSports to “provide marketing information and material to the Pasco County Office of Tourism,” does not place any obligations on RADDSports. In fact, RADDSports argues that it is Florida Sports Coast that was in default of that part of the contract. As of September 12 of this year, the Florida Sports Coast website still referred to the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus as a “proposed 8 court indoor sports facility.” Even after asking Thomas to update it, it took more than a month for the changes to be made.
Claim #4 — RADDSports is not cooperating with the Residence Inn by Marriott hotel when it comes to marketing opportunities, claiming that the hotel operator also has expressed concern about the way RADDSports is operating and has asked the County to step in.
RADD’s Response — In their response to the county, RADDSports insists the operator of the Residence Inn has not made such claims, and that the county’s lawyers “affirmatively asked the (Residence Inn) operator to make such claims, and even went so far as to draft a letter for him they asked him to sign making (those) claims….The operator refused to sign the letter drafted by the County’s Lawyers.”
Claim #5 — That RADDSports also has heard from “multiple sources” that they were rudely rebuffed when trying to book events, and failed to timely respond to inquiries while prioritizing local events.
RADD’s Response — According to data from RADDSports, in 2021, the facility hosted 52 events, when it was projected to host only 38, and brought in 30 organizations, 26,000 athletes and 60,000 spectators. So far this year, the campus has hosted 44 events and will host 62 by year’s end, bringing in 15,000 athletes, 38,000 spectators and $5.5 million in economic impact, and already has 48 events booked for 2023, and 86% are returning events. “We believe this speaks to the professionalism and support (we give to) all event organizers that we are privileged to host at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County,” Blalock wrote.
Claim #6 — That RADDSports is in default of Section 9.03 because it has failed to provide the required annual financial audit for the year ending December 31, 2021.
RADD’s Response — RADD claims it cannot control the timing of the audit, and due to “significant personal issues” it had been delayed. Regardless, the contract doesn’t state a deadline for delivery and, last week, RADD said the audit was completed and delivered to Thomas.