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County leaders explore consumer lures

A group discusses the feasibility of an event complex and other Pasco attractions.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


A sports arena, cultural center or entertainment complex could be a way to draw people to visit, stay and spend their taxable dollars in Pasco County.

But it's not just tourism-related attractions that could benefit from this effort and the push to promote natural attractions throughout the county, local business leaders say.

Equally as important as drawing people into Pasco is making residents aware of the routine products and services in the county that they might be paying for elsewhere.

"Each part of Pasco has its own major entity, and there are businesses in east Pasco that people go to Tampa for because they're unaware that (those sorts of businesses) are in Pasco," said Sandy Faulconer, president of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce. "We try to stress something even as simple as buying gas here keeps our businesses strong. We have a mall here, but people drive all the way down to Citrus Park." Faulconer was one of 25 local business leaders who gathered at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club on Wednesday for presentations by KPMG Peat Marwick, the consulting firm studying the feasibility of an event complex, and by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Dennis Mackee, marketing director for the Commission, pointed to the economic benefit of the county's nature-based attractions.

Hunting, freshwater fishing, and wildlife viewing created $55-million in retail sales, $3.4-million in state sales tax, and 1,641 jobs in 1996, according to the most recent Commission study. The total economic impact was about $113-million.

Mackee said nature-based tourists tend to stay longer, spend more money, and have higher income and education levels than tourists that visit other attractions.

"You've got to promote what people want to do, rather than just tell people to come here," said Mackee. "Natural assets, if properly managed, can function as economic assets."

Some officials attending the presentation said the event complex, and the promotion of those assets, could help the county even beyond tourism. KPMG is now studying what kind of complex the market demands, how big it might be and where it should be located.

Mary Jane Stanley, executive director of the Economic Development Council, said the event complex could boost the county's appeal for businesses that are considering moving or expanding here. "It's a part of the whole basket of quality of life amenities" that Pasco can offer, she said.

Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, said the effort to study one complex for the county, and the "It's only natural" marketing campaign will help bring the county together.

"We've not done a good job of marketing what we have in the past, and this is an opportunity to have some concrete direction," he said. "People don't know what we have here, and some of the people in our own county don't realize it." The County Commission, the EDC and the West Pasco Chamber funded the KPMG study, which has a budget of $42,500. KPMG plans to present its initial findings of market demand to Commissioners in 30 days.

Since 1991, the county has set aside half of its tourism development tax to help finance this facility. The tax is a levy on short-term lodging of less than six months. By the end of October, the county will have collected $5.7-million from its tourist development tax.

- Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229.

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