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Winter Springs put the brakes on a pickleball development, after the sidewalk was already laid, in order to research how to redesign a 14-court facility to be tournament level and have nighttime lighting.
The pickleball facility, in discussion and development for more than a year, had already reached the construction stage when the Winter Springs City Commission, on May 8, directed staff to research an increase of the scale of the facility to tournament level. It all started with a statement from city Parks and Recreation Director Len Hartman.
“It’s come to our attention that the design may not meet some desires of people interested in this,” Harman said, before listing reasons why the facility might not be what pickleball players want. The biggest reason: Only one of the 14 courts, as designed, could host tournaments. And that could cause the city to miss out on income, Deputy Mayor Rob Elliott said.
Elliott said he’d been doing research on pickleball and how other cities had handled developing their courts.
“I came to realize that the opportunity that this city has … to bring in tournaments and in turn bring in money into the city,” he said “It could be quite a substantial income stream to the city.”
Elliott said he’d been reading about the growth of pickleball and the formation of professional leagues and amateur league structures, and thought the city’s facility should be more ambitious.
“Tampa has the Bucs, St. Pete has the Rays, and Winter Springs could have a professional facility like this that could maybe even bring in a major league pickleball club to use as a home facility,” Elliott said. “That’s how far this has gone.”
A problem: Hartman said that 260 feet of sidewalk had already been laid that would have to be removed and relaid. But Hartman said that repouring the sidewalk would only add one to two weeks to the project. The court count would still be limited to 14 courts due to the constraints of the overall facility.
The interest from the public is there to justify turning the courts into tournament level, requiring an additional 4 feet of area surrounding each court, Commissioner Cade Resnick said.
“If we had 28 courts, we would fill 28 courts,” he said. “I know that for a fact.”
Even with the limited court count, if the city were to make its courts tournament-ready, the facility would immediately be one of the largest in Central Florida, Resnick said.
“Tournaments in the area, Orlando has it, Lake Nona’s got it, and we would be the third biggest,” Resnick said.
Resident Andy Toshie, who said his wife would call him a pickleball addict, agreed that the interest is there. “The people that I play with and talk to, that’s what they want,” Toshie said. “They want a league.”
“There’s all kinds of ways to make money on this, but most importantly people will come because they want the organization,” he added.
Residents expressed concern that the facility wouldn’t be managed in a way that prioritized residents, but staff assured them that residents would be the priority.
“First and foremost this facility is for the residents of Winter Springs,” Elliott said. “They would take precedent over anything else that’s going on out there. They would have first dibs and it’s not going to cost them a dime to play the game.”
Commissioner Ted Johnson said that the city should move forward with the upgrades.
“Let’s just endeavor to do this right, because we’re not going to lose on this,” he said.
The Commission directed city staff to research and design how to bring the facility up to tournament level, including lighting for nighttime play, estimated to cost $120,000 to $160,000 to install. The Commission will then vote on those potential upgrades at a meeting in the near future.