In response to a rumor that recently sprang up on the Key, Sarasota County staff members last week worked to reassure the public that the tennis courts at Siesta Public Beach will not disappear when the county begins phasing in planned improvements to the park.
“I went out there … and talked to about 10 people,” Project Manager Curtis Smith told the Pelican Press.
“There won’t be any gap in availability” of the courts, he added.
Joyce Dalbey, a regular tennis player at the beach, emailed County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson Oct. 7 to report that she had seen a sign at the courts telling the public the courts would be removed and new ones would not be constructed until the improvements were well under way.
In response, Patterson contacted Carolyn N. Brown, general manager of the Parks and Recreation Department. Patterson wrote Oct. 7 that she had had numerous emails similar to Dalbey’s.
“I am answering each that we are not (removing the tennis courts) but may be moving them a bit further south in the park to maximize parking and to facilitate the enlargement and design of the (stormwater drainage) pond, which will itself give a buffer to the Gulf and Bay (Club) and also help take the ugly and polluting drainage off the beach,” Patterson added.
Brown responded to Patterson, copying the other commissioners and staff members involved in the beach project: “Staff did find signs that someone had put up at the Siesta Beach tennis courts. There were several names and email addresses provided (for Patterson and county staff) … as a means by which to communicate the desire to keep the tennis courts at the beach. The signs have been removed.”
Brown added, “The courts are indeed part of the approved preliminary design plan. It is anticipated the courts will be relocated to the southern portion of the park. Although we are in the preliminary stages of the phasing plan, it is our desire to first build the new courts before removing the existing courts.”
Smith told the Pelican Press that he related the county’s plans to the tennis players he found last week at the beach courts. “They were pretty happy with that explanation,” Smith said. “Folks I talked to like the plan.”
Tentatively, Smith said, work on the new courts will start in a couple of years. The county’s top priority at the site is the stormwater drainage plan, for which the county has a $1 million grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Spencer Anderson, another county project manager who has been working with the Gulf & Bay Club residents on an easement related to the stormwater pond design, is scheduled to update the County Commission Oct. 25 on that project.
During the early stages of planning for the beach park improvements, Smith said, county staff did evaluate the need to keep the courts at the beach, asking, “How important is (tennis) to the park?” Members of the community “let us know it was important to those who use (those courts),” he said.
Nonetheless, he said, rumors have continued to surface.
“I was glad to have an opportunity to be out there (last week),” he said. “All four courts were in use while I was there.”
Smith said the players he talked with were a mix of seasonal residents and visitors.
“I think there’s a diverse group of people who like to use the courts,” he said. “I saw everything from young boys with their dad on vacation to old folks and seasonal residents.”
Contacted last week by the Pelican Press, Dalbey said by email, “I’m glad to see … I stirred a little interest and/or concern over a notice that was posted on the tennis courts on Siesta Key.”
A four-year resident of Sarasota, Dalbey added she recently had begun playing tennis again.
“Having the courts on Siesta Key has been a double pleasure for obvious reasons — the sport and the beach,” she wrote. “I’m happy to find out there will not be a void in this pleasure during the renovations and construction of the (new beach) parking spaces.”
Matt Moreno, an employee and instructor at Total Tennis in the Village, also was pleased with the county’s plans when the Pelican Press contacted him about the matter. “That’s great news for sure,” he said.
“We’ve talked to a few regulars that use the courts,” who had seen the sign with the incorrect information, he said. It had been “almost like a scare tactic kind of thing,” he added.
“It’s important (for staff) to get out there on the site,” Smith said. Residents become concerned “that planning is done in a building on the other side of the interstate,” with no thought about the effects, he added.
“We’re all folks who use those facilities, too,” Smith said of county employees.