As a national-level pickleball tournament prepares to open play for the first time in Winter Haven, Winter Springs is edging closer to having its own tournament-level pickleball facility.
The Winter Springs facility, initially voted into existence in December of last year with plans to have it built along Central Winds Park’s western meadow, between the city’s dog park and Lake Jesup, would feature twice as many courts as the next largest facility within a dozen miles.
The facility’s scope expanded after a vote on May 22 that authorized nearly $3 million to complete the facility with 14 tournament-capable courts. As construction awaits some decisions, a permit that Parks Director Len Hartman described as “critical” was expected to be approved by the St. Johns River Water Management District this week.
After that, “Piles of pipes will all be going in the ground and getting set up,” Hartman said.
On June 12 the city dedicated more than an hour of discussion to the pickleball facility, updating the public and deciding key features of the facility, including future expansions.
But early on, objections were raised about the scale of the facility, being so much larger than other nearby facilities.
“What my real issue here is, I think we’re going into more of an overkill at 13-14 courts for a city of 37,000 people,” resident Ken Greenberg said, suggesting that the city’s tournament aspirations would be thwarted by a lack of hotels in the area. “If you don’t have a place to put heads in beds, it ain’t gonna work. If you look at the hotel situation in Oviedo, Winter Springs, Casselberry and Longwood, it doesn’t exist for the most part.”
The two big items on the agenda were how to operate the facility and when to add lights.
After a resident suggested that the city was at risk of losing money building and operating the courts, Mayor Kevin McCann pointed out that the city doesn’t make money off of any of its parks facilities.
“I understand that the cost of this is quite high, but we also know that healthy parks contribute to healthy communities,” McCann said. “I don’t think at any point we are looking to make a profit off of our parks. We offset a great deal of that through contributions.”
At one point in the discussion, Commissioner Victoria Colangelo asked about the city charging non-residents to use other facilities, as it appeared the city was no longer charging non-residents to use the city’s splash pads.
“It was costing us more money to charge non-residents than it would have been to keep it free and open to anyone no matter where you lived,” said Parks Manager Brian Dunigan.
That raised the issue of whether the city should charge anyone at all to use the courts, with Commissioner Cade Resnick noting that charging a minimal fee would prevent the courts from being abused, versus the courts being free.
Elliott said that, though there have been no formal discussions about having a pickleball professional manage the facility, it’s a possibility.
“I have been contacted by pros interested in what we’re doing,” Elliott said.
For the lights, Hartman said he could have them installed in as little as 80 days once he had approval. But that was put on the back burner while the city reached out to their lobbyist and other sources seeking grant funding for lighting to prevent the city from paying approximately $300,000. A grant could potentially pay for part or all of the cost.
If the city receives the grant by August, the city would have enough time to install the lights by the facility’s anticipated opening date toward the end of this year.
“If not, we’re going to put the lights in anyway,” McCann said.
In the meantime, city staff will be researching how to operate the facility, whether and how to charge fees, and whether to hire a pickleball professional to manage the facility. Staff plans to present its findings to the Commission at a future date.
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