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Off/beat

Taxpayers feel sting of bid for tennis stadium

By CHASE SQUIRES
Published September 26, 2004

So we come around to the tennis stadium again. You gotta love it.

No, seriously. You've GOT to love it. Because, people of Pasco, there seems to be nothing that will derail our county commissioners from the path they have embarked on, a path they are determined will lead to a $5.7-million tennis stadium built with your tax dollars.

Play tennis? No? Neither do I.

Watch tennis? No? Didn't think so.

Maybe playing tennis is fun for some people, although I can't help but notice how empty the public courts are in my end of the county. But watching tennis? That's like watching bowling. Keep in mind, I'm a sports nut. But I wouldn't go to a tennis tournament if they let you drink beer from paper cups, bet on the outcome and cuss at the players.

Wait, that's jai alai. And even that's boring.

Back in 2001, the county went looking for ways to spend tax money it had collected since 1991. Because the dough came from a hotel tax, the money must be used to draw more tourists. Don't get ideas about building more roads, fixing flooding or buying up green space before it becomes the Cypress Creek Well Field Mall and Food Court.

Then it comes out last week that the county's dream of giving Saddlebrook honcho Tom Dempsey $5.7-million to build and run a stadium, 18 tennis courts and a catering/concessions kitchen, is a bit ambitious. Costs are up.

Dempsey says no problem. Cut the courts down to as few as 10 - he'll let players use courts at his nearby resort to practice. Eliminate the kitchen - he'll have the food cooked at his nearby resort and carted to the stadium. He'll tote the booze wagon over.

Even the nearby resort's cleaning equipment could be shuttled to the stadium.

So where, I wonder, will the players, their entourages, and the spectators opt to sleep?

And who, I wonder, will eternally own the catering contract? The maintenance contract?

It's funny: When county commissioners tested the waters in 2002, seeking bids from anyone interested in building and managing a tennis stadium, Dempsey was the lone bidder. That's not surprising; he was the guy who brought the idea of a tennis stadium to the commission in 2001.

That was back when the pot was a bit sweeter. Tampa folks were trying to lure the Olympics. The Women's Tennis Association announced Pasco County would be its future headquarters.

But the Olympics passed on Tampa. And the Women's Tennis Association never built here, although the association still considers Saddlebrook it's "official resort" and sports the Saddlebrook logo on its Web site. Not the Pasco County logo, mind you.

Again, that's not surprising. On its own Web site, the resort lists itself as "Saddlebrook Resort - Tampa."

Even if they're not so high on being part of Pasco, Saddlebrook chiefs are awfully keen on your money and this tennis stadium they want you to build.

Are you okay with this?

Because if you're not, I'm figuring Saddlebrook will build it anyway, on its own. I suppose it would be nice if the people of Pasco chipped in $5.7-million to build what would look an awful lot like an arm of the Saddlebrook resort (Tampa), but I don't believe for an instant it would stop Saddlebrook from building the stadium either way, if Dempsey really believes in it.

After all, when steeplechase horse racing came to Dade City, supporters Bob and Sharon Blanchard invested more than $1-million in a track and built it on their land. No public money there.

And down the road from Saddlebrook, Dempsey is building an Arnold Palmer-designed championship-caliber golf course, with the goal of luring a big-time tournament and television coverage on the Cannon Ranch property. Could be open by 2006.

No public money there either.

But if you're willing to fork over a wad of taxpayer cash for tennis, well, why not. If you want to tie the development at the hip to Saddlebrook, great.

What's that piece of equipment they use to play tennis? Oh, yeah. A racket.

If it's okay with you, I guess we'll foot the bill for a tennis stadium. Not many other counties own a professional tennis stadium.

I wonder why not.

But if it's not okay, let your commissioners know. Speak out. Go to a commission meeting.

If you like, bring beer in a paper cup and cuss at the players. But I wouldn't bet on the outcome, unless you're betting on Saddlebrook.

[Last modified September 26, 2004, 00:33:25]


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