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Longboat Key Thursday, Sep. 5, 2019 1 month ago

Longboat Key pleases pickleball and tennis players with court solutions

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The question now is, which comes first: the new pickleball courts, or the replacement tennis courts?
by: Sten Spinella Staff Writer

Longboat Key Commissioners will be presiding over town matters again soon. Close to the top of the agenda? Pickleball. 

Sara Cullen is the USA Pickleball Association’s ambassador for Longboat. Her son and her daughter are apparently fine tennis players; she introduced them to pickleball and they picked that up quick, too. She’s been at the forefront of pickleball’s gaining popularity on the island.

As evidence of the growing enthusiasm for pickleball, there was a petition signed by more than 260 people for public courts at Bayfront Park. There are currently 12 public tennis courts and one public pickleball court on the island, which does not include the vast array of private tennis courts at resorts or condominium associations.

In her comments about the sensitive pickleball situation on Longboat, Cullen was diplomatic and sure to be respectful to her tennis-playing counterparts. They love their sport too, after all. She praised the job Public Works Director Isaac Brownman has done in trying to reach an equitable solution, saying that he’s treating the two groups of athletes as if they’re twin siblings.

“Do the pickleball courts get installed now over the tennis courts, or should the town wait until a couple of open-to-the-public free courts are replaced somewhere else, and then we convert these over?” – Isaac Brownman

Cullen also applauded Fanny Younger, who was instrumental in engineering the petition/plan to bring pickleball to Bayfront, thereby keeping pickleball and tennis in separate locations. In the past, tennis players have complained about how noisy pickleball can be.

Now that the town has settled on six pickleball courts to replace the two tennis courts at Bayfront Park, the major sticking point has become about the timetable. Does the town find an area to install tennis courts, replacing the ones rid from Bayfront Park, and execute that project first? Or does it build the long-awaited pickleball courts beforehand?

“I don’t want tennis players to think that we are bulldozing them, the petition we signed said that they would give us courts at Bayfront and provide two courts elsewhere,” Cullen said. “The elsewhere, if that takes a little longer, we’ve already waited. We’ve always been a little on the shorter end.”

Pickleball courts are coming to Bayfront Park. The question is, where will the town build new public tennis courts?

Cullen called finding and constructing new tennis courts “a pickle,” but she was confident Brownman and the town would be able to figure out a solution.

If that solution involves addressing the tennis courts first, though, “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. He finally got us happy; we wanna have that ribbon cutting.”

According to Cullen, the hope is that the town can get the new pickleball courts done in time for this winter season.

Brownman said the implementation of pickleball courts in Bayfront Park will cost around $24,000, based on an assessment of six bids for the project received by the town.

On Sept. 9, Brownman hopes to receive clear direction from Town Commissioners during their first meeting after returning from a summer hiatus. He agreed with Cullen that the looming question now is whether the tennis courts are replaced before the pickleball courts are put in, or vice versa.

“It’s more about the timing of when to convert the existing tennis courts to pickleball, and the reason is, there’s a little bit of discussion as to, do the pickleball courts get installed now over the tennis courts, or should the town wait until a couple of open-to-the-public free courts are replaced somewhere else, and then we convert these over?” he asked. 

Public Works is looking at several locations across the island to see if they would work for replacement open-play tennis courts. Brownman said the key takeaway is that each location the department has in mind has some sort of drawback or difficulty, and the search requires more due diligence.

As evidence of the growing enthusiasm for pickleball, there was a petition signed by more than 260 people for public courts at Bayfront Park.

While Brownman acknowledged these are conceptual ideas kicked around in conversation, some possible locations for the new tennis courts:

  • The tennis center
  • Durante Park
  • Elsewhere on Bayfront Park
  • A piece of property the town owns in the Emerald Harbor/Spanish Main area

These options are among others, and would require additional work, such as collaborating with residents in those areas.

Tennis Center Director Kay Thayer said she and other tennis players believe that the town’s decision to replace the tennis courts at Bayfront Park with pickleball courts is a win-win. She also said she’s fine with whatever the town chooses to do regarding where to put the new tennis courts.

“If they find a place close to the tennis center, we’d be happy to have them,” Thayer said. “We’re good either way.”

It seems a respectful match refereed by the town is nearing an end, and both sides are pleased with the outcome.

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. 

See All Articles by Sten

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