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Longboat Key Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019 7 months ago

Longboat leaders working to solve dilemma of how to expand pickleball on island

Options include several variations that could cut into other popular amenities.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Proposals to expand public access to pickleball on the island have covered more ground than a player in a singles match.

There’s been a lot to consider:

* Prices, how to pay for new courts and equipment, and who shares the burden;

* Noise;

* Positives and negatives about various locations; and

* Changes to other amenities.

There have been plans put forward by the sport’s enthusiasts, by the town’s staff, plans for from-the-ground up construction of dedicated single-use courts and plans that included moving, changing or eliminating existing facilities.

And there’s always this caveat from Public Works Director Isaac Brownman: “As a reminder, we always like to point out, pickleball play in Bayfront Park is highly seasonal.”

Commissioners most recently came to a consensus that perhaps the best course of action for the time being is to follow a staff recommendation to add two dedicated courts and maintain two combination tennis-pickleball courts in Bayfront Park, where the island’s only public single-use pickleball court has stood since 2017.

Most of the real estate required to make that happen comes from the concrete pad that accommodates an adjacent full-sized basketball court with four hoops.

In the plan proposed by the town, a pair of 64-foot by 32-foot pickleball courts (64 by 34 is ideal, but 60 by 30 is considered OK), oriented north/south, could be established on a little more than half of the basketball court area.

What remains would be a less-than-half-court basketball venue, though Commissioner Mike Haycock has suggested adding enough concrete to the north end of the court to make it a half-court again.

Resident Bill Coughlin, who addressed town commissioners while wearing a Boston Celtics shirt earlier this month, said he enjoys bringing his grandchildren to shoot hoops at the park and called a foul on cutting back on space.

The Bayfront Park tennis courts are outfitted with additional lines and portable pickleball courts.

“If we have cucumberball in a few years, are we going to take away a few more amenities to accommodate that group?” he said. “I seriously hope the commission will not rush into this and will think about, do we take away a wonderful amenity that the whole community was pleased about on the design? Where does that end?”

Short of the possible half-court extension, the changes are largely based on moving fences and repainting the hard-court surfaces. The approximate cost would be $12,000, plus paint and nets.

That’s thousands less than building new courts — for any of the sports affected.

Maya Welch and her grandfather, Nick Florio shoot some baskets.

Still, the tennis lovers at Bayfront Park have concerns.

“Who knows what will happen next year or two years from now?” resident Crespo DaSilva told commissioners. “Maybe tennis is going to be kicked out. I don’t know if pickleball is even going to survive. It’s unfair.”

Mayor George Spoll has maintained through many of these discussions that free-play tennis shouldn’t be eliminated.

Commissioners have grappled with the idea of who will pay for more pickleball courts for months. Commissioner Jack Daly wondered aloud at a recent meeting how much of the demand is driven by off-island players.

“It would be helpful to create such a registry,” he said. “Our objective here should be focused on the needs of residents.”

Tom Diener, one of the leaders of the island’s pickleball movement, said he has more than 300 names on an email list but didn’t have a sense of full time, part time or off-island. He said his group favors the option currently favored by town commissioners and said his group is ready to work with the town.

“We have some feelers out for reception to contribution,” he said. “I’m not ready to make a commitment. If the commission would allow, we would suggest to allow the friends of pickleball to work with Public Works to help with ancillary equipment. Benches, expansion of the pavilion for shade. Maybe a second pavilion.”

In coming to a consensus on a favored plan, town commissioners learned court conversion could be accomplished in about eight weeks, according to informal estimates.

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