Monday, April 15, 2024

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How many millions should Burlington spend on pickleball, tennis courts?

A multimillion dollar plan to enhance Burlington’s accommodations for tennis and pickleball seems to have landed a bit out of reach for Burlington’s elected leaders.

Burlington’s city council ultimately balked at some the tennis-related aspects of this $5.3 million endeavor when its particulars were laid out during a regularly-scheduled work session on Monday,

That evening, Davis Montgomery, the city’s new part-time capital project’s manager, presented a raft of improvements that included upgrades to the city’s existing pickleball facilities at Fairchild Park, a new canopy for its tennis center at City Park, and a massive, new pickleball complex in the heart of City Park’s grounds. Montgomery assured the council that these projects – and in particular, the proposed pickleball complex – would make Burlington the envy of many other communities in this part of North Carolina.

“I think it is fair that no one would have a facility close to what we’re going to present here tonight,” explained Montgomery, who previously worked as an executive for Duke Energy and served on Elon’s board of aldermen until his retirement in 2021. “If you look regionally, from Charlotte down to Raleigh, there would not be another facility the size of this one, which makes it attractive when we target the U.S. Pickleball Association.”

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To present the details of these various endeavors, Montgomery yielded the floor to Tedd Duncan, a consultant with the design firm Stewart, Inc.

Duncan went on to describe his firm’s vision for the existing facilities at Fairchild Park, whose three tennis courts are currently striped to accommodate both tennis and pickleball. Duncan proposed that the city convert two of the tennis courts into six pickleball venues while leaving the third court as an exclusive playing surface for tennis. This proposed change would be in line with the recreation department’s current usage assessment that pickleball accounts for about three fourths of the demand for the dual-use courts at the park.

According to Duncan, this metamorphosis would cost the city about $675,000 – although much of this money would be used to improve the aging infrastructure around the tennis and pickleball courts.

Meanwhile, Duncan unveiled a plan for 17 new pickleball courts at Burlington’s City Park. These courts would be accompanied by an additional 43 parking spaces, shading for both players and spectators, a pre-fab restroom, lighting, handicapped-accessible walk, and other amenities. All told, this multiphase venture would cost the city some $3,225,000.

Duncan also presented schematics for a dome over the City Park’s tennis courts – a project that would cost the city another $1,355,000 and bring the total cost of the proposed upgrades to $5,255,000. This final embellishment ultimately drew an objection from Burlington’s mayor pro tem Harold Owen, who challenged both the utility and the expense of the proposed dome.

[Story continues below photo of Burlington Tennis Center.]

“I just don’t know the demand is there for indoor tennis courts, and it is going to be an additional maintenance expense,” he objected. “The question is if the cover for the tennis courts is an essential item.”

Tony Laws, the city’s recreation director, insisted the cover would accommodate all weather play – particularly for high-school tournaments.

“Is it essential?” Laws went on to reflect. “I wouldn’t say it’s essential. But it’s a desired thing to upgrade our tennis center to accommodate this tournament play regardless of the weather.”

Owen and mayor Jim Butler agreed that the tennis court cover should be pulled out of the package, Owen also threw shade, metaphorically speaking, on the scale of the proposed pickleball complex at City Park – with particular attention on the project’s proposed complement of new parking.

“It’s just not gonna happen,” he added. “There isn’t the room.”

In order to allay the council’s sense of sticker shock over these projects, city manager Craig Honeycutt went over some of the options that the city has to foot these various upgrades.

Honeycutt suggested, for instance, that these three projects could bundled into a bank loan with other items, such as a proposed overhaul of Burlington’s Paramount Theater. Finance director Peggy Reece also proposed tossing street paving into the package– although Butler objected, insisting that it would be much “cleaner” to limit the projects to the recreation arena.

In the end, the council instructed staff to proceed with the design work for the pickleball courts at Fairchild Park as well as the 17 courts at City Park, along with the accompanying parking and most of the other enhancements.

Read the newspaper’s editorial page view on the potential $5.225 million project:

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