By Sean Bowes

It will be the first of its kind, says J.D. Porter, treasurer for the Porter Family Trust, of the proposed “Fields of Wiregrass,” a $25-million, 120-acre sports complex which would be able to host a number of tournaments for various sports year-round.

On November 30, Pasco’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) voted 5-0 in favor of Porter’s Request for Proposal (RFP). The sports complex would include 12 multi-purpose fields (for field hockey, football, lacrosse and soccer) as well as nine fields designated solely for baseball and softball. Porter says the Fields at Wiregrass also would feature a kayak/canoe launch, trails and even an area for fishing.

The plan would be for Pasco County to use some of the $11.6 million it has accumulated in tourist tax revenue since 1991 to use as an investment in the community. The commissioners tentatively agreed to invest $6 million of that total in the Fields at Wiregrass.

“This facility would have a huge impact on the area,” says District 2 Pasco County commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes all of Wesley Chapel. “It would be a catalyst for economic development with more hotels, retail and the like. “

The Fields at Wiregrass is expected to hold at least 20 major youth tournaments in its first year, which could be as early as spring 2014.

According to Porter, the Fields at Wiregrass would be Wesley Chapel’s answer to monstrous multi-use sports complexes in Florida, such as the Cocoa Expo Sports Center in Cocoa Beach and Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando. In fact, the Porters have hired Steve Daugherty, a former manager at the Wide World of Sports, to run Wiregrass Sports, a company which was started earlier this year to run the sports complex.

A unique part of this deal is that Pasco County would have a one-third joint ownership and control of the park, while the Porters would retain ownership of two-thirds of the complex. Neither the Porters nor the BCC could say with certainty how the specifics of the project would work with the legalities of spending public money on privately owned land, which would ultimately be run by a private company.

“There are concerns about the legality of the BBC investing in private property,” says Mulieri. “The premise has been that tourism money would be used to build a facility on county-owned land and it would be run by a private entity. This company (Wiregrass Sports) would have a contract to run the facility.”

To maintain operational costs for a top-notch facility, which the Fields at Wiregrass aims to be, outside food and beverage will not be allowed to be brought in (it must be purchased from one of the four concession stands) and spectators would have to pay an entrance fee for tournaments and games, which is likely to be in the neighborhood of $4.

“The concept (of building a sports complex in Wiregrass) is on target,” says Mulieri of the Fields at Wiregrass. “The legalities would just have to be worked out.”

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