NEW PORT RICHEY — County commissioners embraced plans Wednesday for a wakeboard park at the old SunWest mine site in Aripeka and a multifield youth sports complex in the middle Wesley Chapel's Wiregrass development.
Now it's time to work out the details.
Both parks would be privately operated, with a mix of private and public funding to build the facilities. Among the considerations are the legal restrictions of using $11.6 million in hotel tax money set aside for creating tourist destinations.
"It's not a slam dunk yet," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand. "There's still a lot of stuff to work out, and that's stuff with a capital 'S.'"
• • •
Commissioners balked at using tourist money for the $1.5 million wakeboard park, largely because roughly three-quarters of the visitors would be day-trippers from Pasco or Hernando County.
Plans call for two cable courses to pull up to 10 wakeboarders at a time through a series of jumps and rails. Other activities include beach volleyball, disc golf, a rope climbing course, an inflatable water playground and ziplines.
"We understand that a lot of people are not wanting to wake-board or water-ski or knee-board," said Patrick Panakos, president of the Wake Park Project, which would build and operate the park. "That's why we're trying to provide all these amenities."
A one-hour wakeboarding pass would cost $23, or riders could buy a daylong pass for $38. Full-year passes would run $600.
The inflatable playground would cost $10 and the climbing course would cost between $12 and $20 for an hourlong ticket. The other activities would be free.
Commissioner Jack Mariano, a major supporter of the plans, noted that most other parks only have one cable system, not two. And none are located right on the Gulf of Mexico like SunWest.
"It's going to create excitement because we're going to have the best park in the world," he said.
Panakos said he would pay for most of the infrastructure for a total cost of $1.1 million. The county owns the land and the lake. He also asked the county to pay $385,000 for the second wakeboard cable system.
After the meeting, Panakos said he would work with county officials on a bid that allows him to lease the land for at least 15 years. He praised the site as "gorgeous" and a "no-brainer" for the project, which he said could be built within nine months to two years once commissioners approve a contract.
Besides impact fees, the county also has $2.5 million from a settlement agreement that can be used to construct man-made beaches on the lake.
• • •
Commissioners also warmed to the $25 million Fields at Wiregrass, which would include 12 multi-purpose fields for soccer, lacrosse or field hockey. It would also have three full-sized baseball fields, three little league fields and three "swing" fields with portable fences for either adult baseball or little league.
One third of the 120-acre project would be owned by the county, and the rest of the land would be retained by the Porter family. Plans for the park also include trails, a public kayak launch and a fishing area. It would sit within walking distance to the Shops at Wiregrass, the planned Raymond James satellite campus and the new Florida Hospital.
The project's main goal is to draw 20 major youth sports tournaments in the first year with a model similar to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Spectators would be charged a $4 entry fee and likely couldn't bring food into the facility.
Commissioners tentatively committed $6 million in tourism taxes and $2.5 million in sales tax revenue toward the project.
"This is something that the County Commission believes in, and now we've got to work through the details," said J.D. Porter, whose family owns the development.
There are several key details. One is whether to allow the Porter family to eliminate a separate 80-acre district park from its development in exchange for including the same amount of privately owned land in the sports complex. It's also unclear whether the county can spend tourism money to build facilities on land that it doesn't own.
Commissioner Ted Schrader, who came up with the initial offer of tax money, said he felt "that was enough to get us an entry ticket into opening some meaningful discussions with the Porters."
Future talks could include the Porters donating more land to the county, the county including more tax dollars or splitting the project into phases.