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Longboat Key Friday, Sep. 20, 2019 2 years ago

Longboat Key Commissioners reconsider the pickleball question

Town leaders debate potential locations and timing for new courts for both tennis and pickleball.
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

One item of discussion drew the majority of attention from Town Commissioners on Sept. 9, their first meeting following their two-month hiatus. But it had nothing to do with the town's budget or proposals for the vacant town-center property. 

It was pickleball.

Since the spring, town leaders have tried to find the sweet spot of a proposal to build new pickleball courts to satisfy growing public demand for the sport while at the same time paying attention to needs of tennis players who enjoy the free-use courts at Bayfront Park. 

For months, the town has looked at the feasibility of converting the two Bayfront courts into at least six pickleball courts by resurfacing the hard surface and installing new nets. The working idea was to relocate the tennis courts to an area behind the town's public library near the Public Tennis Center. 

But the more that near-the-library option was examined, the more difficult it seemed, because of several factors including fit, existing drainage and more. And Commissioners were concerned about timing the projects to keep players of both sports happy.

Tennis courts in Durante Park? There is room but likely not the support for such a project.

So, on Sept. 9, Public Works Director Isaac Brownman rolled out broader list with more options. Its drawbacks:

  • An area adjacent to the Tennis Center: New court would cost roughly $65,000 not including site work and elevation to avoid drainage issues. Parking may be difficult at this location, and tennis courts here would mean finding a different designated drainage area.
  • Durante Park: The park is a naturally passive recreational environment, meaning the location would have to be rezoned to allow for hard court use. At the moment, the town is unsure about possible restrictions connected to the donations that made the park possible in the first place. 
  • Town-owned property between Spanish Main and Emerald Harbor: The chief concern with this choice is how the neighborhood in this residential area would react to such a proposition. To put courts here would also require rezoning.
  • Bayfront Park: Well, what about just putting new courts in the green space and rec center area at Bayfront Park? Brownman noted this action would  remove an open field area that was a built-in amenity to the park. “A lot of the accolades this park receives is by being a multi-amenity type park,” Brownman said. “By placing the tennis courts there it would remove that ability.”
  • Hideaway Bay tennis courts: Hideaway Bay is a neighborhood off General Harris Street on the north end adjacent to public works building. It has two existing tennis courts, but they are in disrepair. Brownman suggested a lease agreement for 3-5 years for public tennis courts there while the town continues to deliberate on where to put them. A spot repair would cost around $36,000, and a total overhaul around $110,000.

Commissioners were able to eliminate Spanish Main and nearby Tennis Center land from the running. Durante Park is still possible, though not necessarily likely. Bayfront Park, Hideaway Bay (either leasing or purchasing) and an interim solution involving public works either a) building two of six permanent pickleball courts at Bayfront and leaving one dedicated tennis court or b) building two of six permanent pickleball courts and striping two shared pickleball courts over the top of the remaining tennis court.

Commissioners asked that Brownman and town staff do more research on the updated options over the course of the next 45 days or so.

The Hideaway Bay tennis courts are currently in a relative state of disrepair.

Two weeks ago, Cullen told the Longboat Observer that if gaining new tennis courts is addressed before new pickleball courts, “You’re gonna have an awful lot of pickleball players who are gonna have very disappointed feelings. It’s like, he’ll see us again on his doorstep.”

The pickleball community feels they’ve been overlooked. But on Monday, some Commissioners didn’t seem to prioritize getting pickleball done first.

Vice Mayor Ed Zunz said he felt installation of new tennis and pickleball courts should be simultaneous. He also said he felt the amount of space dedicated to the basketball court at Bayfront is “overkill.”

“I’d prefer that we do not eliminate the tennis courts at Bayfront park until we have a suitable alternative for two courts that can be used by the public,” Commissioner Randy Clair said.

“If people show up in January and there’s no tennis courts at Bayfront, I think we’re gonna have quite a few angry citizens,” Commissioner Ken Schneier said.

Schneier and Mayor George Spoll advocated for leaving the tennis courts as they are and instead building the six new pickleball courts on the green, open space of Bayfront adjacent to the tennis/basketball courts.

The town has one dedicated pickleball court.

The final decision on this matter won’t be made for at least another month. The town budgeted $100,000 for pickleball maneuverings, but certain choices presented by Brownman could surpass that number. At the center of the controversy is an emerging game versus the traditionally dominant tennis.

Commissioner Mike Haycock explained why this became an issue in the first place from the perspective of pickleballers, while saying the town should consider replacing only one tennis court rather than the two.

“When I drive up and down the island, I see tennis courts everywhere,” Haycock said. “Most of the older condos have tennis courts, private clubs have tennis courts, the city provides tennis courts. I would hate to see us spend a lot of money replacing these two tennis courts if they don’t get used.”

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Sten Spinella is a Town Hall Reporter for the Longboat Observer. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and his master's degree from the University of Missouri. 

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