This letter addressing the concerns of the tennis community is also being distributed in the Tennis & Pickleball Center's e-newsletter today. If you're not receiving that e-newsletter, please use their Contact Us form to submit your current email address.
By now, you’ve no doubt heard that there’s a project underway to build an indoor Pickleball Center where two outdoor clay tennis courts (#7 and #8) currently sit, spearheaded by the new non-profit Court Sports 4 Life (CS4L). That location and the addition of 12 pickleball courts have generated lots of discussion among the tennis community so we’d like to address some of the Frequently Asked Questions and concerns that we’ve heard –
• Why do we need an indoor Pickleball Center? Demand for pickleball courts at the Tennis & Pickleball Center has been increasing quickly and steadily in the last few years – court rentals (indoor and outdoor) increased 260% from 2018 to 2019, and the outdoor courts have been booked at 41% of capacity in June 2020. Tennis court rentals, on the other hand, actually declined a little from 2018 to 2019, and June 2020 usage has been at 38% of capacity for indoor courts, 20% for outdoor hard courts, and 8% for outdoor clay courts. Protecting and preserving this facility is an important responsibility that we take great pride in and we feel that increasing pickleball court availability is the surest path to maintaining the financial health of the Center.
• How will it benefit tennis players? An indoor PB Center would free up two indoor tennis courts in the cold weather months as well as allow us to create additional exciting programs for both tennis and pickleball, such as family programs, corporate challenges, more leagues, more events, and more youth programs. Furthermore, a new PB Center would physically separate the two sports, which some feel will improve the overall experience for both sets of players.
• Why are we giving up two outdoor courts? Courts 7 & 8 are our least-used courts, with only 7% and 3% usage in June 2020, respectively. Clay courts are notoriously difficult to maintain, especially in our dry climate, so our professional opinion is that these two courts will be only slightly missed and replacing them will actually result in saving significant time and money that we currently spend on their maintenance.
• Don’t we need those two courts for tournaments? Yes and no. While it’s true that two fewer courts will pose some scheduling challenges, as a highly-experienced tournament director, Bill feels that all current tennis tournaments can still be run efficiently without them. In the past, too, tournament players are often unhappy to play on clay if they’re not used to it … and are very vocal about it!
• Is this Pickleball Center project contrary to the original intent in creating a Tennis Center? Rick Garth, a Courts Sports 4 Life board member, was involved in creating the original tennis bubble in the 90’s. He responded to this question with a little history and perspective –
The original Tennis Center was an idea that developed in late 1990. At that time tennis was booming and 4 indoor and 6 outdoor courts were constructed. Funds for the project were provided by a small group of local donors (myself being one) and proceeds from the local lodging tax. Since that time there has been a large expansion of the facility to six indoor courts and eight outdoor courts. I have been a financial supporter every step of the way.
It is important to note that the original facility was comprised of all har-tru clay courts with underground hydration. The City ignored our recommendation regarding the selection of a fabric structure and went with one that worked poorly with the indoor surface. This caused the former director to pursue converting the indoor courts to hard courts. Similarly, as new outdoor courts were added, hard courts were chosen for the surface due to the lower maintenance. The Center at its peak reached a total of 6 indoor and 10 outdoor courts.
As the facility peaked, though, unfortunately so did the level of tennis participation as people’s preferences changed. Since 2010 the number of tennis players in the US has decreased by approximately 1.2 million and this trend is reflected in our current usage numbers. It is interesting to note that at the time the Tennis Center was originally built, there were three squash courts and numerous racquetball courts in Steamboat. Now, to the best of my knowledge, there are none.
While I am currently a pickleball player, I spent most of my life as a competitive tennis player – in college, as a highly-ranked player playing exhibition matches with some of the top players in the world, and as a teaching pro – so I assure you that I am a tennis lover. As a CS4L board member, I am committed to making sure the Tennis Center continues to more than adequately serve the current and future tennis needs of our community. My fear is what will happen to tennis with no pickleball. I am genuinely concerned that without the addition of an indoor pickleball facility, the current court configuration may not be able to provide the necessary funds for short and long term upkeep of the facility.
The drive behind the original facility was to create an affordable recreational amenity for locals and visitors of Steamboat. In my opinion, it would be way more in the spirit of the original development to repurpose part of the Center to continue to serve the community than it would to have the facility be underutilized. By building a Pickleball Center, I truly believe we will help perpetuate one of Steamboat’s oldest and best public amenities.
• How else will a new PB Center affect tennis players? A new site plan under investigation would give us the opportunity to 1) move the Swiggart Family clay court and potentially redo the Carol Baily hard court, plus 2) create a larger outdoor social area surrounding the pavilion for use by both tennis and pickleball players. If this site plan proceeds, those two tennis courts would be situated next to each other so both would need to have the same type of surface. Rest assured that the tennis community will be invited to help make that decision. By the way, we would expect any changes to the Swiggart and Baily courts to happen during a low-demand shoulder season with minimal impact on outdoor court availability.
• If you’re trying to raise $6 million for a new Pickleball Center, what about the Tennis Center? The Steamboat Relishes Pickleball! comprehensive capital campaign actually includes three initiatives, two of which directly benefit the Tennis Center:
$6 million for constructing a new Pickleball Center … with additional parking spaces!
$1 million for capital improvements to the existing Tennis Center (e.g., replacing the “skin” when needed in 5-10 years) – Keep in mind that a driving reason for Court Sports 4 Life to take over the operation of the entire Complex once the new Pickleball Center is open is to ensure that these capital improvements are actually funded. In the current structure, the City has that responsibility but there is no funding planned.
$1 million goal for the Serve It Forward! Tennis & Pickleball Maintenance Endowment Fund – Three years after its creation, this fund’s balance currently stands at about $145,000 and we hope to reach the $1 million goal in 7 more years. The “spending rate” is limited to 4% or so, even if investment income is higher than that, and specific use of it will be determined by a committee consisting of the STA President (Bo Stempel), the SSPA President (Jeff Laxague), the CS4L Board Chair (Moz Modzelewski), Center concessionaire (Loretta Conway), and a City representative (Alexis Wolf, staff member). In other words, all constituencies will have a say on how these funds are spent!
• What could happen if we don’t plan for the future? One reason that the City of Steamboat Springs fully endorses CS4L’s plan to take over the operation of the Tennis & Pickleball Complex from them is that, even before the pandemic, the City doesn’t have sufficient funds to run and maintain the facility. If for some reason the Pickleball Center doesn’t happen, the City could one day entertain the same idea that they entertained 10-12 years ago – that is, to sell the entire facility to help raise money and rid them of future costs. CS4L and the Conways feel that embracing both sports in a balanced approach is critical to keeping the entire complex a strong and vibrant community asset for years to come.
Please contact us if you have questions not addressed here or on the Court Sports 4 Life website (courtsports4life.org), which includes very detailed information such as our Business Plan. Bill and I truly believe that building an indoor Pickleball Center is a win-win proposition, one that will allow us to enhance our tennis programs and facilities even more!
Loretta & Bill Conway firstname.lastname@example.org