Richard Blalock is eager to get shovels in the ground and the long–awaited indoor/outdoor sports complex in Wiregrass Ranch built. He says that these days, it’s just a waiting game.
However, when Pasco County is ready to issue the permits and get the ball — or, in this case, basketballs — rolling, Blalock assured local business leaders on May 25, at the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce (WCCC) Economic Development Briefing, that his team is ready to go.
“We’re hoping to get it all papered up in August,’’ said Blalock, the CEO & Founder of RADDSPORTS, the Sarasota-based company that will build and run the Wiregrass Sports Complex (WSC) at Pasco County, as he said it is currently called. “We are 30 percent into drawings, 40 percent into civil design, and it will be 18 months to build, but we think we might be able to get it in 12 or 14.”
That would mean a spring 2019 opening for the $44-million WSC, which is planned for part of a 224-acre parcel located northeast of the Shops at Wiregrass.
“We’re excited for it,’’ said WCCC CEO Hope Allen. “We’ve been waiting.”
Blalock and RADDSPORTS VP of development Anthony Homer showed some new designs and news to the monthly WCCC gathering at the Pebble Creek Golf Club in New Tampa.
In conjunction with Mainsail Development, the sports complex will have one of the first full-service Marriott-branded Residence Inns, a 120-room hotel that will now be L-shaped to create a courtyard at the entrance to the WSC, with a sports theme and rooftop bar overlooking the complex, which also will have an amphitheater for concerts and seven soccer fields.
Blalock also showed plans for ponds and a trail system through the complex, in an effort that could appease the older, more country-minded Wesley Chapel residents.
“We’ll be marketing this complex nationwide as kind of an ‘old Florida’ theme,’’ Blalock said. “We want to keep the natural sites, and the ponds….we’d like to tell the basketball teams and volleyball teams up in New York to come down and see a gator. We want to keep that whole theme of nature; that’s what the community is looking for.”
As for the programming, Blalock said it’s too early to determine if the 98,000-sq.ft. indoor facility will be something residents can just walk in off the street and use, but the focus will clearly be on drawing the top youth sports tournaments and athletes not only from around the state, but also from around the country, for tournaments that will fill hotel rooms and restaurant seats and make an economic impact.
Blalock said an intensive youth program will focus on different levels (recreational, competitive and elite) of five primary sports —cheerleading, basketball, volleyball, soccer and lacrosse. The plan is to develop and promote players, like a minor league would do, while also developing the athletes into good citizens.
“The youth sports industry needs a culture change,’’ he said.
Blalock also said the indoor facility will offer educational and tutoring labs, coaching programs for kids who are not inclined to play sports competitively, concession stands and meeting spaces.
“The flexibility is huge,’’ Blalock said.
The indoor complex will co-market with the hotel, much in the way Disney Sports ties in athletic events to its Disney resorts. Homer said they have 38 events already planned for the first year, but he expects to “blow that number out of the water.”
Despite the on-site presence of the Residence Inn, Homer said there will still be plenty of rooms to go around. A volleyball event, for example, could attract 128 teams, resulting in a need for 800-900 hotel rooms.
“Our 120 rooms won’t even put a dent in it,’’ Homer said. “It will fill up not only our hotel, but the others in the area.”
The county says the sports complex is expected to generate 27,000 room nights per year.
Blalock said RADDSPORTS has already secured U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting, and is now just waiting on the county.
There is still one obstacle to get over — getting the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) raised in order to help finance the complex. The WSC will be built with $11-million previously set aside by the Board of County Commissioners ($8.5-million in tourist tax funds and $2.5 million in excess bond proceeds from a prior half-cent sales tax bond), a county-backed loan of $14,253,700, plus $18,750,000 from Mainsail Development.
The proposed two-percent increase in the TDT is expected to generate $1.2 million annually, which will help by paying down the loan, along with the revenue RADDSPORTS says the WSC will generate. A super majority vote (four of the five BCC commissioners) is required to officially pass the TDT increase. A vote will be held at a future meeting, following a public hearing.
For more information and to take a look at the plans, visit RADDSPORTS.com/pasco-wiregrass-complex/.