Monday, June 17, 2024

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Burlington city council agrees to $150K contract to hire co. to manage new pickleball courts


Burlington’s municipal staff seems to have cleared the net in its latest move to develop a pickleball program that would the envy of cities and towns across central North Carolina.

Earlier this week, city staff members got a tentative nod from Burlington’s city council to hire an out-of-state contractor to manage this program, which will make use of brand new facilities that are currently under construction at two municipal parks.

[Story continues below photo.]

Now. . .

Clearing and grading is underway for the new pickleball courts near City Park.

and . . . Then. . .

This is a architectural rendering of the finished pickleball court complex.

The city council originally set this plan into motion last fall when its members set aside nearly $4.7 million to build a massive pickleball complex at Burlington’s city park and construct a number of additional courts at Fairchild Park. This project, which is currently expected to wrap up in mid September, will ultimately put 23 specialized courts at the disposal of the city’s growing number of pickleball enthusiasts.

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In the meantime, however, the city’s recreation department has reached the conclusion that it will need some professional expertise to operate the sort of world-class pickleball program that would make the most of these new courts. To this end, the city’s administrators have turned to Sports Facilities Companies, a firm based in Clearwater, Florida that touts itself as the go-to choice for communities that need help operating venues for athletics and entertainment.

Tony Laws, the city’s recreation director, was quick to concede that this firm’s expertise would be a veritable game changer for the city when he presented the contractor’s bona fides to the city council on Monday.

“Because we haven’t done pickleball in the recreation and parks department before…except for providing some inadequate facilities…it would certainly be a learning experience for us,” Laws added during a city council work session that afternoon. “Sports Facilities already has everything in place to do successful pickleball programs…and right now, they have over 60 facilities nationwide that they’re managing.”

According to city staff, the company’s management services will include organizing “tournaments, rentals, free-play, leagues, clinics, camps, lessons, and more” on the city’s behalf. Sports Facilities will also handle marketing for the city’s pickleball program and line up corporate sponsorships of events and facilities.

Gregg Wisecarver, an executive with Sports Facilities, went on to assure the council that, under his company’s management, the city’s pickleball program will be the embodiment of everything that Laws and his colleagues believe it can be.

Burlington recreation director Tony Laws and Gregg Wisecarver, an executive with Sports Facilities during city council work session on June 3.

“We run it the way you want it to be run; that’s our measure of success,” Wisecarver declared. “We have more pickleball courts under our management than any other company. But we didn’t do that by being big; we did it by doing it right.”

Wisecarver said that, under his company’s tutelage, the city’s recreation department can turn its pickleball courts in to an amenity that will improve the quality of life for the city’s own residents and attract pickleball enthusiasts from far and wide.

Wisecarver added that the company’s monthly fee, which comes to about $150,000 a year, can be worked into the recreation department’s existing budget for the program’s operations.  Rachel Kelly, one of Burlington’s assistant city managers, noted that some of the funds this program will come from the proceeds of a new “occupancy tax” that the city has imposed on hotel and motel accommodations in order to bankroll endeavors that encourage travel and tourism.

The council went on to give city staff members a unanimous greenlight to enter into a contract with Sports Facilities, which Laws said he personally hopes will be the start of a long and profitable partnership with the Florida-based outfit.

“We’re looking at this as a long-term relationship and not just a three-to-five year contract,” the city’s recreation director said.

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