Work to add two dedicated courts, reduce basketball facilities to half-court, expected to wrap up by end of January.
By the end of January, as the season begins picking up, pickleball enthusiasts will have more places to play at Bayfront Park, while lovers of hard-court tennis and basketball will still have space for their favorite sports, too.
Once completed, the park modifications will bring to a close months of discussion, planning and proposing all aimed at adding island access to the sport that is growing not only on Longboat Key, but also on the mainland and around the country. Proposals since early this year included courts adjacent to the Public Tennis Center, courts on the Town Center Green land, courts elsewhere in Bayfront Park and even a takeover of the hard-surface tennis courts in the park with those courts moving elsewhere.
"Longboat has always been a tennis island, and everyone has always recognized Longboat for the wonderful tennis that is here,'' said Sara Cullen, an avid player on the island and the area ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association. "Pickleball is competing now with tennis in public parks, YMCAs and school districts. It's very nice of Longboat to recognize the need. You know, we had to prove ourselves a bit and show our numbers that there are sufficient numbers to warrant adding the two courts over there and introducing two more. ''
With Longboat's project moving forward, proposals for additional mainland courts are also moving ahead. In early December, plans in Sarasota came to light from a private developer to convert a closed roller rink into an indoor pickleball hub with 12 courts. And in its current budget, Sarasota County has set aside nearly $800,000 to build six outdoor courts, add striping to a second tennis court and make other improvements in Longwood Park in the north end of the county near University Parkway. When completed, eight courts would be available there.
Longboat's project adds two new, dedicated courts alongside the court that has been in play since 2017. Two other courts are available on one of Bayfront Park's two tennis courts, which brings the total there to five.
"We're early into the season, so it just continues to build from here,'' Cullen said on a recent Monday morning at the park, when about 25 players were gathered, adding 48 or 50 player is not out of the question. "The courts get busy around Christmas and you just have to wait. Sometimes, we have as many as 28 paddles waiting, with three courts being used. So having two additional courts, and they will be designated courts, is going to be a big help.''
The key making it all work is a 15-foot concrete addition to the north end of what is now a full-sized basketball court. Once that’s poured and cured, a new surface will be laid down across the whole L-shaped slab, while also fixing some cracks and exposed seams at the same time.
The net loss is half of the basketball court and one 10-foot high backboard and hoop. Total value of the project is about $50,000. Estimates for some of the built-from-scratch proposals rose above six figures. Members of the pickleball community have agreed to fund the purchase of additional amenities for the new courts, such as paddle racks, benches, public-use pickleballs.
The new pickleball courts and the existing court will feature similar colors, but alternatively colored “kitchens’’ are being added to better delineate the zones in which volleying is prohibited.
“That's how pickleball courts are trending,’’ Brownman said. “So that portion of the play area will be a different color.’’
Cullen said town officials have mentioned the possibility of designating one of the five courts for beginners, as a means of helping introduce the game and its social aspects to a new batch of players.
"Sometimes, you have people who are a little bit intimidated by the level of play, and they want an opportunity to play with similarly skilled people before they mix in with everyone,'' Cullen said.