Hometown Hero | Jack Mariano, Pasco County Commissioner

The Rise of SunWest Park                                                                          By Debra Taylor Tee

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He was not expected to win the Pasco County Commissioner’s race in 2004, but Jack Mariano edged out incumbent Peter Altman in a narrow victory, and he has embraced the position ever since.  Handling such major matters as transportation, economic development, parks, and zoning, Jack also oversees final budget approvals as the head of the legislative body of the Pasco community.


Ten years prior, Jack and his wife Michelle migrated to West Tampa Bay from Boston, MA. They landed in Hudson and raised two daughters, Amber, 19, and Lauren, 18. Both girls were enrolled in the Pasco County school system, and that’s where Jack’s political aspirations began.

Although, his initial bid for election to the Pasco County School Board was unsuccessful, he discerned the stumble as “divine intervention”, and made the decision to take a different course by joining Leadership Pasco and becoming educated about county government. This is what ultimately inspired him to run for the Commissioner’s seat.

Jack has said, “I will approach every situation as an opportunity, not a problem,” which is exactly the optimism constituents should expect from their hard-working, community servant.

One of the biggest projects Jack has fought long and hard to see come to fruition, is SunWest Park in Hudson.

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Aerial view of SunWest Park


Shortly after Jack was elected, Gary Grubbs, mining operator with SunWest Mines, shared some vital information that would prove incredibly beneficial to Pasco County.

Gary introduced him to an old, barge canal, channeling  three-quarters of a mile directly to the Gulf. Amazed by its beauty, proximity to the Gulf, and the 175 acres of Caribbean-blue water, Jack’s wheels started turning as to how to develop this gorgeous, county-owned site to benefit his community.

The entire property was originally donated to Pasco in 1986, but was closed in 1987, when someone drowned. It has been sitting idle until now.

After many phases of development – at times amidst controversy – this former lime rock mine is now SunWest Park, in the heart of Pasco County! Slated to be Florida’s next most popular tourist attraction, SunWest Park currently offers visitors “whiter-than-Pensacola” sand beaches that border a 75-acre freshwater lake, as well as professional grade sand volleyball courts.

Cave divers will enjoy the Jewel of SunWest, a 300-ft-deep cavern, perfect for underwater exploration. Additionally, a second 25-acre, deep water lake provides snorkelers and scuba divers a captivating experience.

SunWest Park

Our Aqua Park is a one-of-a-kind, inflated playground on the water.


Coming attractions include an amphitheater overlooking the bay; a ropes course; zip-lines; water trampolines; and large water inflatables for kids.

In addition, Jack is excited about the state-of-the-art wakeboard facility Patrick Panakos, operator of SunWest Park, is creating. He said, “This will be the best wakeboard park in the world. We are aligning ourselves to be the most unique destination that cannot be copied anywhere!”

Furthermore, SunWest Park would not have opened July 4th, without the investments of time, talents and money by five key individuals:  Gary; Charlie Grant of CLC Trucking; Roberto Saez, project manager; landscaper, Tom Giroud; and citizen, Larry Derringer.

“Gary agreed to do the beach scraping and covered the $2 million cost.” Jack said, “He hung in there in spite of all the setbacks and delays. Last May,  bids were coming in $4 million too high. Gary and Charlie stepped up, and together, the duo saved Pasco more than $4 million on earth removal and beach scraping.”

Jack continued, “Tom crafted the one-of-a-kind intricate, lime rock wall and highlighted it with a huge Pygmy palm tree grouping that had been waiting for its perfect spot for 25 years!  Also, Larry Derringer of New Port Richey, performed research and helped procure the best sand at a significant savings. Without his efforts and the diligence of Roberto, we would not have gotten this project to completion or open when we did. The amazing quality of the final product was due to the tremendous community of supporters and volunteers!”

Jack extends a cordial invitation to everyone to visit and enjoy SunWest Park, open daily from noon to 9 p.m.


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Visit SunWest Park at http://sunwestpark.com/#-5 or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SunWestParkFL?fref=ts

About the Author

Debra Taylor Tee
Editorial Director | Columnist, Writer - My background includes public relations with an emphasis on journalism. The publicist in me enjoys promoting local businesses through entertaining articles, profiles, and blogs. I love to live, work & play in West Tampa Bay, because being on or near the water is truly a tranquil, inspirational and spiritual experience I cherish.

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