Funding key for future pickleball expansion

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When it comes to expanding pickleball on Longboat Key the fundamentals are easy to agree upon. The rapidly-expanding sport which is similar to tennis except played on smaller courts, with lower nets and a wiffle-like ball. Longboat pickleballers have been working with town staff in trying to facilitate an expansion of the public Tennis Center to include at minimum four pickleball courts. The cost is $200,000 according to the town, of which the town has budgeted $100,000.

The town commission has expressed over the past months a desire for the pickleball community on Longboat Key to fundraise the remainder of the balance with a matching goal of $100,000. That amount has some pickleballers concerned.

USA Pickleball Association Ambassador for Longboat Key Sara Cullen, peppered Commissioner Jack Daly in a May 19 memorandum.

“Let me see if I understand what you’re saying. The commissioners commitment on building pickleball courts is contingent on the raising of $100,000 correct? How did ‘we’ arrive at this number?” wrote Cullen.

Cullen went on to ask if there had been any real bids and asked if there had been any discussion of using the money Unicorp donated to the Parks and Recreation Fund as part of its approval agreement to build a St. Regis Hotel.

“Who is supposed to raise this money? If it’s me, how am I supposed to accomplish this on a wish and a prayer?” said Cullen.

Cullen said the town is the entity that can make the pickleball courts happen, but she said a firm commitment on the town’s part and a realistic approach would be necessary for the courts to come to fruition.

Cullen was in part responding to an email by Commissioner Daly in which he suggested personally that “an important measure of the interest and support for additional public pickleball courts is the extent of demonstrated private financial support thereof.”

Cullen so far has 15 individual donors for pickleball courts and a total of $6,500 in pledges. She said she initially hoped to raise $10,000 and will continue to work toward that figure.

“The $100,000 donation that the city commission and the parks department is looking for seems beyond our capabilities,” wrote Cullen.

Cullen pointed out there is a dramatic difference between “Friends of Tennis” which raised $100,000 to help build a tennis center from the ground up including 10 courts, clubhouse, and a complete facility; and what is necessary for concrete pickleball courts.

At a town commission workshop this week a 10-year resident and pickleball enthusiast said he was “a little taken aback” by the idea of having to raise half of the budgeted project cost.

Commissioner Jim Brown replied, “You’re fortunate. I don’t think anyone on the dais is against pickleball. Don’t give up we’ll get them built, somewhere, somehow.”

To that the pickleball enthusiast replied, “We won’t give up, our numbers are increasing.”

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