Solution nears for Longboat pickleball expansion

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When it comes to accommodating the push for more pickleball courts on Longboat Key, the adage ‘Keep it Simple’ is fast becoming the solution.

Originally, the Longboat Commission initiated grandiose plans of building up to eight courts near Town Hall at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.

Now, Town Manager Tom Harmer is serving up a solution that will add two additional pickleball courts at Bayfront Park for a cost of about $12,000.  The other cost in two of the proposals will be a slight diminishment in either the basketball or tennis experience at the park.

Town Manager Tom Harmer will bring three scenarios to the Town Commission to consider at an Oct. 15 workshop. The first, which he is not embracing, is to build two courts on green space at a cost of about $50,000.

Harmer notes in a report provided by Public Works Director Isaac Brownman that this option will affect the entire aesthetic view of the park, especially from the Recreation Center, driveway and promenade.

A benefit of this scenario is it would leave in place the existing basketball court, one tennis court unmolested with pickleball striping as well as the other tennis court that is currently striped for pickleball and is referred to as a multi-use court. The park currently has one existing dedicated pickleball court.

It is the other two scenarios that Harmer says will have no drainage impact and each costs about $12,000.

What is referred to as scenario two is to convert the existing western tennis court permanently into two dedicated pickleball courts. That court is currently used as a multi-use court by both pickleball and tennis players. This scenario would then stripe the existing east tennis court to become a multi-use court. This scenario would add two new permanent pickleball courts for a total of three permanent courts for pickleball and two multi-use courts.

The positive, according to Harmer, is that the basketball court would remain unchanged and the negative is that Bayfront Park would lose its only remaining dedicated tennis court because it would be converted to a multi-use court.

The third scenario, which Harmer says has been met with the most favor by pickleballers who have contacted him, is to simply re-fence and expand the existing dedicated pickleball court and utilize a sizeable section of the existing basketball court to create two new additional dedicated pickleball courts. Harmer says it would reduce the basketball play area to one net and less than one half of the court that is there today, but he said it would be enough for one-on-one games and for practice. The positives in this scenario are that the end result would be the creation of three connected, dedicated pickleball courts, a basketball practice area, a multi-use tennis court that can also be used as two pickleball courts and the continuation of one dedicated tennis court.

“We are recommending to maintain the presence of tennis within Bayfront Park and one of the two last scenarios. We are not recommending moving kayaks or utilizing green space,” said Harmer.

Harmer said that the existing basketball court is a regulation sized court with hoops on each end.

“We have not observed big, full-court games going on there. We have seen kids and adults playing and shooting baskets. Scenario three, which the pickleball community seems to prefer, would allow this use to continue,” said Harmer.

As stated, both scenario two and three will cost around $12,000 and since only painting and restriping existing concrete surfaces is involved, the work can be accomplished in less than a month and new pickleball courts would be ready for season.

Harmer added that although the commission spoke of adding four or six pickleball courts to Bayfront Park, he said staff is concerned that bringing additional people and becoming a regional pickleball destination could trigger parking issues.

“We don’t think the town is trying to create a magnet for regional pickleball tournaments,” said Harmer.

Underscoring the rationale of a more modest expansion of two additional pickleball courts is the fact that Harmer says the high demand for pickleball has only been observed during the busy season. He pointed out that unlike tennis, pickleball games generally last about twenty minutes and so large groups milling about do not wait an hour or an hour and a half as they do when waiting for a tennis court.

Brownman wrote that town observation and reporting has indicated up to 40 players or more during certain days of peak season. He wrote that by providing two additional courts, this capacity can be accommodated with the addition of two extra courts with a one game wait time; especially if open play days are swapped or expanded.

Additionally, town staff has identified at least 27 private pickleball courts on Longboat Key. These courts have been added or converted in the recent past to address the increased interest in the sport.

Brownman clarified and offered numerous reasons why some of the commission’s ideas for pickleball expansion at Bayfront Park are not recommended.

One idea was to relocate the kayak launch to the south side of the property. This would entail cutting out a portion of existing seawall, extending the boat ramp and designing and constructing an access drive allowing large boat trailers to turn around in addition to addressing drainage issues and other impacts.

Other suggestions were to relocate the dog park, which is also fraught with issues including the south property is unshaded and the children’s play area is located on the south side of the property presenting a safety concern.

In sum, staff maintains that scenarios two and three provide low-cost options, adds permanent pickleball amenities and maintains both tennis and basketball within the park.

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