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Pickleball fundraising goal set too high, players say

Town has made progress in the last year, Harmer says.

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  • | 12:09 p.m. June 18, 2018
Tom Diener wants more pickleball courts on Longboat Key.
Tom Diener wants more pickleball courts on Longboat Key.
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Tom Diener wants more pickleball courts on Longboat Key. With the one designated court and two shared with tennis players at Bayfront Park, there aren’t enough to accommodate the fast-growing sport, he said.

But the 74-year-old Longboat resident, a self-proclaimed representative for the pickleball community on the island, said he was insulted when he heard how much Longboat Key staff wanted pickleball players to fundraise for the new facilities: $100,000.

“It’s not a matter of affording it, it’s a matter of principle,” Diener said. “What we're trying to do is round out the town in a way we think would enhance life on the island for a lot of people.”

Town staff have asked private pickleball players to raise half of a $200,000 estimated project to build four pickleball courts on the island, recreational facilities that have been budgeted for construction in 2020.

The town has done a lot in the past year to accommodate pickleball players, said Town Manager Tom Harmer. At the beginning of the year, the island had one court. Now it has three with plans to add four more, progress Harmer said is worth noting.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in a short time,” Harmer said. “It wasn’t a couple months ago that we didn’t have any money [for more pickeball courts].”

Diener said he is pleased with what the town has done as far as making more space for pickleball players on the island. But this whole process of asking for money for more courts seems premature, he said.

The biggest problem, Diener said, is the estimate for the project. Diener, who worked in construction before retiring to Longboat Key, said $200,000 seems high for such a project.

Sara Cullen, an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association on Longboat Key, said that she’d seen four pickleball courts built for $80,000 in Michigan, where she spends her summers.

Town staff estimated the price of installing four courts based on what it cost to put one at Bayfront Park, said Mark Richardson, streets, facilities, parks and recreation manager.

It cost the town about $25,000 to put the court in at Bayfront Park, Richardson said. That price was a bit lower than what it would have cost if the pickleball court were built separate from the basketball courts at Bayfront — the concrete for both of which was poured at the same time.

That $25,000 also did not include the cost of installing water fountains and infrastructure that would need to be built if pickleball courts were added anywhere else on the island.

All in all, the town budgeted about $50,000 per court.

As the individual who suggested that the pickleball community raise money for more courts on the island, Cullen said she was surprised by the towns ask of $100,000.

“I set a goal on my own to raise $10,000,” Cullen said. “I thought that was a good, nice, reasonable beginning.”

While private donors have raised about $7,500 for new courts, Cullen said that partnerships with island businesses may be necessary to reach the town’s target amount.

But Cullen said she doesn’t feel she has the authority —  especially with such a vague plan for what the courts will look like, where they will go or what donors will get out of donating — to ask businesses to for financial support.

“Don’t send [me] out on [my] own because I sort of need the presence of the city if were going to approach Publix to say 'this is something that is a reality, we’ve identified where it's going to be, we have bids in place to determine how much it's going to cost,' ” Cullen said. “I need the partnership.”


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