WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Construction on the new Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County is about six months away from completion, according to Ajax Project Manager Marshall Quarles.
Here are five things to know about the project:
- A Long-Anticipated Project: Pasco County Board of County Commissioners Chair Mike Moore said a study first mentioned the possibility of the county becoming a sports tourism destination in June 2001. In 2016, the county put out an RFP (request for proposal) on the Wiregrass project. RADD Sports emerged as the top proposal later that year, and a final maintenance and operation agreement was reached in 2017. A groundbreaking was held for the complex in June 2018.
- One Campus, Multiple Sports: The $26 million field house is meant to host tournaments for a number of different sports. The building includes space for 16 volleyball courts, eight basketball courts, 16 pickleball courts, eight futsal courts, a competition cheer studio, and more. Other amenities include an educational lab, full-service kitchen, and concessions area.
- First Events Booked: RADD Sports CEO & President Richard Blalock said six events have already been booked for the campus, and 14-16 more are in the works. Blalock said RADD hasn't even ramped up marketing efforts yet. "We're waiting on the construction. The worst thing we could do is to book an event and then some snag hits on construction." The first events are scheduled to begin in September. Blalock said in addition to a volleyball event, the Blue Star High School Invitational basketball tournament will be held in December. According to Moore, those initial six events represent 2,460 hotel room nights. "So, imagine when they really start pushing this facility and it's done what's going to happen in the future," said Moore.
- Sports Tourism: The sports campus is Pasco's latest step toward its goal of becoming a premiere sports tourism destination. "It is extremely exciting. Basically, it's like a dream come true for our DMO -- our Destination Management Organization," said Consuelo Sanchez, sports development and tourism manager for Florida's Sports Coast, of the new complex. Sanchez travels the country -- and has even made a trip to Colombia -- to market Pasco to event organizers. She said the sports tourism industry brings in $57 billion to the Florida economy each year. A 2019 report shows 14% of all visitors to Pasco last year came for a sporting event. Sanchez said proximity to attractions like Disney World, Weeki Wachee Springs, and beaches are draws for the area, and the new campus will be one more attractive feature. "Basically, we have a full plan for them when they come, so they can not only enjoy the event, but they can also enjoy the destination and have fun. When their kids are here playing, they can be there -- shopping, eating, and playing, doing different activities," she said.
- Previous coverage: More than one million people visited Pasco County between October 2018 and September 2019, according to an economic impact and visitor tracking report. As far as economic impact, the report shows tourism generated more than $652 million in economic impact in the county, more than 1.2 million room nights in paid accommodations, and more than $3 million in tourist development tax. The most popular destinations were Wesley Chapel and New Port Richey, which each saw 35 percent of the county's visitors.