Potential for creation of 12 pickleball courts at county facility on Pompano Avenue in Sarasota to be part of County Commission budget discussions

Commissioner Moran provides update and references county staff report on the sport

A county graphic shows the potential design of The Legacy Trail trailhead/pickleball facilities on Pompano Avenue. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Enough pickleball courts could be constructed on county-owned Pompano Avenue property in Sarasota to support tournaments and satisfy public demand for opportunities to participate in the sport.

A comprehensive proposal for such a project will be part of the County Commission’s upcoming discussions of its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the next five years, Commissioner Michael Moran told his colleagues during their regular meeting on April 23 in Sarasota.

At Moran’s behest in November 2018, staff with the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) undertook research into the popularity of pickleball in the county and surrounding areas. The staff issued its report on April 2, which included information about potential new pickleball facilities.

Since the agenda materials were prepared for the April 23 meeting, Moran noted, staff had advised him that the focus would be put on creating courts at a new Legacy Trail trailhead at Pompano Avenue Park. (County staff is working on a North Extension of The Legacy Trail from Culverhouse Nature Park on Palmer Ranch to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.)

The 601 Pompano Ave. site formerly housed a Florida Division of Motor Vehicles office. The Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office took over that location in May 2015, after the state required tax collectors to assume responsibility for all driver’s license transactions. After the Mid-County Tax Collector’s Office opened on Sawyer Loop Road in 2018, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates ceased operations on Pompano Avenue.

The property is just north of the Sarasota County Fairgrounds on Fruitville Road.

A 2011 photo shows the Division of Motor Vehicles office at 601 S. Pompano Ave. Image from Google Maps

“Ultimately, a minimum of 12 courts, restrooms and additional parking” could be provided at that location, Moran added.

The April 2 staff report on pickleball included a graphic showing a conceptual design for the new facilities at the Pompano Avenue Park.

“This looks like this is going in the right direction for everyone involved,” Moran said, noting he was “incredibly excited about that.”

Just as he had pointed out to his colleagues last fall, Moran this week talked of the fact that pickleball could be “a bit of an economic driver” for the county. “There’s a desperate need of bringing together 12 to 16 courts for tournaments.”

When Moran first raised the issue on Nov. 27, 2018, he explained that he had spoken with two residents who felt the county could secure tournaments if it had enough pickleball courts in one facility to support such events.

An aerial map shows the location of 601 Pompano Ave. in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

During that late 2018 meeting, Moran noted that the City of Punta Gorda was constructing 32 outdoor and eight indoor pickleball facilities that meet the standards of the USA Pickleball Association, “all in an effort to attract people … from all over.” Earlier in November 2018, he said, Indian Wells, Calif., hosted the 2018 National Championships, and that city would do so again this year.

On April 23, Moran said he had met again with county residents promoting pickleball facilities. One of them — Tom Everitt — was in the audience that day, he pointed out. “[They are] excellent representatives of our community.”

Referring to the upcoming CIP discussion, Moran continued, “I’m excited to see this [proposal for the Pompano Avenue Park] move forward, at least as a beta test site. … I think time will tell on this.”

Delving into details of the sport

A chart shows the number of pickleball courts in Sarasota County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The April 2 staff report explained that pickleball is “a paddle sport game invented in 1965 [that is] one of the fastest growing sports in the country. The number of places to play pickleball in the United States has more than doubled since 2010, and there are nearly 4,000 locations on the USA Pickleball Association’s website and more than 3.1 million people playing across the United States. The spread of the sport is attributed to its popularity in community centers, physical education classes, YMCA facilities and retirement communities.”

When the PRNR staff completed the Parks, Preserves and Recreation Strategic Master Plan in 2016, the report continued, that document “identified pickleball as an emerging trend and highlighted the need for additional courts.”

In 2011, the report noted, PRNR began offering pickleball courts and programs to the public. It provides “indoor sessions for drop-in play for all levels at seven recreation centers,” along with support for four leagues, the report said. PRNR also conducts clinics and camps, the report continued, and it “hosts eight tournaments a year at the Englewood Sports Complex (ESC) …” Participation is usually between 200 and 300 people, the report added.

PRNR offers six dedicated outdoor courts at the Englewood Sports Center and at Bypass Park, along with indoor pickleball programming at ESC and Colonial Oaks Park in Sarasota, the report said. Further, multiple additional tennis courts across the county have been striped to serve as outdoor shared courts, the report noted.

Early this year, the report said, 18 more pickleball courts were striped at the Fruitville, Laurel, Newtown Estates, Twin Lakes and Woodmere parks.

A chart shows the number of pickleball courts in surrounding counties. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As of February, the report pointed out, the county had a total of 77 pickleball courts, including 54 outdoor and 23 indoor facilities. Of those, the report noted, 29 are in North County, 26 are in the central part of the county, and 22 are in South County.

Four of the outdoor courts and four of the indoor facilities in the city of Venice are managed by the county, the report pointed out.

Further, the City of Sarasota has 10 courts; the City of North Port, nine; and the Town of Longboat Key, three.

In comparison, the report continued, Charlotte County has 37 courts, along with eight in the city of Punta Gorda. Lee County has 31; Manatee County, 18; the city of Bradenton, four; and Hillsborough County, 34.

Advisory board and Visit Sarasota County participation

People play pickleball at the Englewood Sports Complex. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Staff discussed pickleball with the county’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council (PARC) on Jan. 3 and on March 7, the April 2 staff report said. During the first session, staff described the board assignment that arose from Commissioner Moran’s comments late last year, the report added.

Staff also asked Visit Sarasota County — the county’s tourism office — to provide information about the potential of pickleball “as a sports tourism driver,” the report noted. The Visit Sarasota County response was distributed to PARC members, the report said.

Among the Visit Sarasota County (VSC) findings were the following, the report continued:

  • Of the pickleball tournaments VSC has supported, participants have been mostly local; therefore, the events did not produce “significant overnight stays.”
  • A few national tournaments draw 500 to 2,000 participants to each event. Most are organized by clubs in a community, by a municipality or by a private promoter “and are unlikely to relocate to other venues.”

VSC offered four recommendations “regarding pickleball as a sports tourism driver,” the report said:

  • Further develop and promote existing tournaments to attract players from outside the region.
  • Consider opportunities to add courts to parks “to appeal to leisure visitors for recreational use.
  • “Consider the niche of indoor-only pickleball tournaments, which a multipurpose facility can accommodate.”
  • If the County Commission were to consider creating a “major designated facility,” recreational use and programming should be the primary motive, “with the potential for high-impact tournaments … viewed as a bonus.”

The staff report pointed out that, given the growth of pickleball across the United States, lining existing tennis courts for pickleball “has been the most efficient and economical way” to increase the number of pickleball courts. “However,” the report cautioned, “shared outdoor courts can lead to conflicts between pickleball and tennis players competing for use of the courts.”

Pickleball players also have shared their concerns with PRNR staff about having multiple lines on each court, the report noted, and in most cases, pickleball players “must bring their own net.”