This is always the dilemma on Longboat: At the height of the winter season, everything is crowded.
The restaurants; the Publix parking lot; the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center; the Longboat Key Club Tennis Gardens; the Key Club’s golf courses; and the town’s pickleball courts.
And, of course, no one likes to be told you can’t eat, play or park when you want. Waiting is annoying.
But does Longboat really need more public pickleball courts?
If you’re an avid pickleball player here during February and March, you’d probably say yes.
But when you talk to Mark Richardson, director of Longboat’s Parks & Recreation Department for 17 years, you can easily conclude the pickleball waiting game is not the crisis you may think it is. Consider:
At this time of year, from 9 to 11:30 a.m., there may be 30 to 50 people wanting to play pickleball on Longboat’s five courts. Of those, 20 are on court at a time. The games typically take 10 minutes; then the next 20 rotate in.
Ten minutes can go fast when you’re on the sidelines watching and socializing. And from everything we’ve heard about pickleball, the socializing is a big part of the enjoyment.
You get the picture from Richardson that the problem is not all that dire, and the need for a more expansive setup similar to the public tennis center isn’t really needed. If anything, one simple solution is to eliminate the basketball court altogether.
As is, half of the full-size court is converted to two permanent pickleball courts. Does Longboat really need a basketball court?
Richardson says the court was kept because it was part of the amenities before the park was redeveloped. But seriously, given Longboat’s demographics, it’s difficult to make the case for keeping the court.
At the least, convert the half-court to two more permanent pickleball courts from February through March.
Richardson also points out that by his count, there are 57 other pickleball courts throughout the island — most of those being tennis courts that double as pickleball courts at condominiums.
As for adding more public courts, it likely would take more than a packed Town Commission chambers of pickleball enthusiasts to persuade the commission to alter Bayfront Park. The town administration has been blunt. It has stated: “It is not the intent to make Bayfront Park a pickleball magnet.”
And when you look at other public land options, there aren’t any. The Town Commission eliminated an obvious one with the Town Center Green.
As for parking, Richardson says the town is adding six more parking spaces in the grass on the south end, creating 66 parking slots altogether. If more parking is needed, surely Richard Gonzmart, owner of the former Pattigeorges restaurant site, could be persuaded to lease out some of his parking during season.
Yes, it’s annoying not to be able to get pickleball court time when you want it. But keep perspective: It’s a 10-minute wait for, at most, 60 days out of the year.
If anything, the town and avid pickleballers could consider ways to improve the courtside amenities for those who wait.