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Mariano sees SunWest Park spurring tourism boom

Published:   |   Updated: June 20, 2014 at 05:47 PM

Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano perhaps could have a promising second career as a tour guide as he frequently ushers business leaders to the lake at the SunWest county park site under development.

Mariano is rallying supporters for several tweaks to the plans for the first phase of the park to begin construction this year.

His goal, he told two real estate professionals he took on a tour of the park site on Monday, is to make more of an impact for the park as a tourist destination as soon as it opens. A wakeboard park operator will build facilities on part of the lake as one major attraction.

The park also could serve as an economic development engine to attract home buyers, he figures.

A town hall meeting on Wednesday night at Hudson High School allowed Mariano to expound upon his vision.

Mariano wants SunWest supporters to speak at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting at the West Pasco Government Center, in New Port Richey.

While commissioners have voted to spend $4 million on the first phase of SunWest Park development, Mariano believes some omissions and oversights could hamper the lake’s appeal.

The project as it stands would not include the type of sand needed for pro volleyball tournaments on one area of the beach, restrooms near the beach, a splash pad for youngsters and additional parking.

Mariano says the only bathrooms are 1,000 yards from the northwest end of the beach. He wants a second set of restrooms closer to the beach.

A splash pad addition could be a big hit with youngsters after a swim, Mariano asserts.

Pasco tourism tax revenue exists to pay for the extra amenities, Mariano argues. He advocates the full $973,000 that TDC approved, rather than the $450,000 commissioners OK’d.

A lopsided amount of tourism development funds have gone to central Pasco projects to the tune of $10.5 million, Mariano thinks.

His two real estate guests, Connie Cardoso of Homeward Real Estate and Denise Assersohn of Buy Florida Realty, generally liked what they heard about the extra amenities at the lake.

The new county park particularly could attract international tourists during summer months, Assersohn said. They might buy vacation homes here instead of pricier areas south of Pasco.

Cardoso thinks the county needs to leverage its assets more, and the lake at the new park could go a long way toward bolstering home values here.

None of the other commissioners shared Mariano’s enthusiasm at the last discusion May 20. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey has questioned the need for a splash park next to the lake. Commissioner Ted Schrader wasn’t sold on the tourist potential of beach volleyball.

Schrader said the county would be better off spending the tourism money on a ice hockey and skating complex planned for the Wesley Chapel.

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