Lakewood Ranch's Bob Haskin has a dream for turning the future Premier Sports Campus and Park into a regional or state destination for the sport he loves most — pickleball.
“We asked (the county) for a 32-court facility,” said Haskin, president of the Lakewood Ranch Pickleball Club, which has grown to 170 members since launching Oct. 20.
Manatee County officials say they will consider building a 36-court facility at Premier.
“We’re honoring that idea,” Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said. “It will be some number that will engage tournament-level activity. There are traveling teams. We want to be sure we don’t undershoot what the market could utilize. There never seems to be enough.”
In March, Manatee County unveiled its new Master Parks Plan, naming Premier Sports Campus and Park as a future parks hub in eastern Manatee County. Although details of the park have not been finalized, Hunsicker said pickleball courts and tennis courts are at the top of the list and likely will be the first amenities to be constructed.
The parks department won't reveal its exact plan for Premier until 2019. The hub eventually will include the existing Premier Sports Campus, plus an expanded area with a connecting 36 acres to its north. The park will feature an aquatics center, tennis and pickleball courts and other amenities.
Hunsicker said the new pickleball facility should be open sometime in 2020.
He said starting with racquet sports makes the most sense because they are the most sustainable of recreational programming.
“The fees people are willing to pay come close to covering the costs of staffing the facility,” Hunsicker said.
Haskin said a 24-court facility would be the minimum needed for the type of tournament play he hopes to secure. He said the ideal tournament setup would be at least a 32-court facility with 300-by-300-foot courts and 16- to 18-foot walkways.
“You’re going to get the max use of court space with that configuration,” he said. “These courts could pay for themselves immediately.”
Haskin said players generally pay up to $60 to compete in tournaments. Revenues also could be generated through vendor fees and sponsorships.
He said the demand exceeds the venues available and added that such a facility could bring in $25,000 to $40,000 in revenue easily. Haskin is competing April 22 in the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples.
Haskin and Pickleball Club Vice President of Operations Carol Lucas said Manatee County’s GT Bray Park, in west Bradenton, has some retrofitted tennis courts the public can use for pickleball. However, the retrofit discourages play because balls are not easily contained as they are with pickleball-specific courts. The distance to G.T. Bray also makes it an obstacle for luring East County players there.
Although many new communities, including Esplanade, Del Webb, River Strand and Lakewood National, all have incorporated pickleball courts into their amenities, the number of courts generally is limited to a maximum of six. Play is for residents only, which is why having a county facility is desirable.
“Our community is becoming divided, depending where you live,” Lucas said. “Pickleball brings people together. You find out what’s going on.”
“It’s easy and it’s fun to learn,” Haskin added. “It’s a social game. You can mix it up between a 10-year-old and a 90-year-old. You can’t do that with a lot of other sports.”