SED Has Been Retained to Design PicklePlex Complex
PicklePlex plans revealed
By JONATHAN SCHOLLES
PUNTA GORDA — As the sport gains popularity in the region, a group of pickleball enthusiasts have banded together in hopes of bringing a state-of-the art facility to the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College.
The newly formed corporation PicklePlex of Punta Gorda has raised 40 percent of its initial fundraising goal in over two weeks in an effort to build a facility to meet the rising pickleball interest in the area, as well as host regional and national tournaments.
Currently, in Charlotte County, there are 53 tennis courts but just three dedicated to pickleball — two indoor courts and one outdoor. In the past eight years, the sport has seen an over 12,400 percent spike in interest in the county as over 2,500 people participate in pickleball, according to PicklePlex, which has applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
“It’s imperative we get this project going. We have to have a place for people to play. We’re have to have all these snowbirds down here, and they’re going to want to play pickleball,” said board chairman Ted Kegeris. “I can’t say it strong enough … we can’t afford to have our pickleball players here go find other places to play in Cape Coral, Fort Myers or Sarasota.
“Right now, Those people come here because the competition is so good. And that says a lot about our community,” he added.
PicklePlex will be compartmentalized into three phases and add 32 outdoor lighted courts and eight indoor courts. Cost will exceed $4 million.
The group is now tackling Phase I, which is estimated to cost $550,000. Plans for the initial stage include 16 lighted, sanctioned courts, covered seating, concession stands and restrooms. The first phase is slated to be completed December 2017.
Punta Gorda City Council contributed $20,000 for naming rights on one outdoor court. The council left the window open for future economic support.
“Anything you can put your name on, we’re selling,” Kegeris said, pointing to courts and bleachers. The group has been seeking sponsorships from corporations, governments and private citizens Phase II of PicklePlex is a tad more ambitious.
Plans call for a 40,000-square-foot building, including eight indoor courts, a restaurant and bar, fitness facility, pro shop and 10,000-squarefoot conference center. Estimated cost is $3.5 million with a target construction date of December 2018.
The final phase — which may be absorbed into the first stage if funding allows it — will add another 16 outdoor courts and covered seating. If not opened earlier, it’s mapped to be completed by December 2018.
Kegeris said the sport has developed widespread popularity and has the potential to be a major economic driver. The sport boasts 2.5 million players from all skill levels throughout 22 countries, he said.
Recent tournaments have generated a combined participation close to 570 players and 209 room nights with strong out-of-state exposure. The U.S. Open in 2016 and 2017 — held in Naples — had an economic impact of $2.5 million and $6.5 million, respectively, and were both televised on CBS Sports.
Youth academies and pickleball clinics would also compliment the facility and community, Kegeris said. Promoting the sport in high schools is another goal.
“During the summer, when the kids are out of school, we want to pick them up from south county, bring them to our facility and teach them to play pickleball, teach them sportsmanship. It’s our way of giving back,” the chairman said.
An environmental study has been complete, revealing the facility does not impact endangered species or wetlands.
“This project helps our community in multiple ways, in addition to economic development. The tourism aspect in bringing people here is going to be huge,” said Nancy Prafke, District 5 councilwoman and council liaison to PicklePlex.
“There are possibilities of this being on the pro circuit, having a tournament here as a precursor to the U.S. Open. It will do a lot for the community in terms of hotel stays and restaurants,” she added. While the property lies just outside city proper, preliminary talks of annexation have begun.