West Chester Twp. nixes $4.6M pickleball courts idea for now; ‘Pickle Lodge’ still happening

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports crazes around, but West Chester Twp. officials aren’t ready to dive into building an estimated $4.6 million tournament grade facility just yet.

Trustee Lee Wong has been begging for more pickleball courts for a long time and the trustees had a full discussion of the issue Tuesday. The options ranged from building a $4.1 million facility — not including parking, which is likely another $500,000 — that would include 14 regular courts and a tournament court with seating, down to improving existing courts at Keehner Park.

“Down at Union Centre where the baseball complex is, that’s a TIF (tax increment financing) area as you know, we have the money for it,” Wong said. “If we do it, build a first class facility we are the capital of pickleball for Butler County, a good facility. Most facility out there are add-on, hodgepodge, no toilets, no drinking water.”

Assistant Administrator Lisa Brown said Travel Butler County did an economic impact study on a potential facility and estimated it could mean $3.1 million to businesses like hotels and restaurants — not money in township coffers — if there were 20 tournament weekends, a national event, four regional events and 15 local events.

The Pickle Lodge announced in October it will be opening a facility that it calls the “second-largest indoor pickleball facility in the country.” It will be built in the space previously held by Court Yard Sportsplex on Kingsgate Way off of the Tylersville Road exit.

The facility will feature 17 indoor courts, five outdoor courts, a bar, restaurant and event space. Co-Founder Mitch Dunn told the Journal-News they plan to open with the first nine courts in early March and the remainder of the courts by the end of June.

Trustee Mark Welch said that facility will offer the same economic benefit to the township without the big price tag, “this $4 million-plus facility is a hard no for me.”

“These economic numbers that you have about the potential those are going to be realized in the Pickleball Lodge,” Welch said. “We don’t need our own facility here in order to achieve these numbers they’re talking about here for economic development.”

Wong said they should provide a free facility for their taxpayers “instead of going out and pay for something that should be free.”

The trustees speculated about the cost for the Lodge and Dunn said they are still working on pricing, but it will be open to the public and there will be walk-in and membership rates “that will make the price of play come down quite a bit versus if you just come in off the street.”

Welch said he also has a problem with spending a lot of money for “special interest groups.”

“I hate to use these words because I don’t want people to be insulted by it, but special interest,” Welch said. “For the township to spend a ton of money on any kind of a project that there is a small, small, small percent of the people who are interested is just reckless I think.”

Wong took exception to that, “to me taxpayers are not special interest, these are some of my constituents, they voted me for the office, they want it, it is for public good.”

Trustee Ann Becker said she has a problem with the cost involved with maintaining such a facility.

“When I look at that facility I see a huge amount of volunteer effort, I see a huge amount of maintenance that will need to be done,” she said adding it wouldn’t just be major things like resurfacing courts but routine work like cleaning bathrooms but also managing the tournaments. “is there a structure in place for us as a township to have a 20-week a year plan for 20 volunteers to operate a facility like that. How much of that maintenance is going to fall on our guys who are already overworked.”

Middletown has an 18-court newly renovated, dedicated pickleball courts at Lefferson Park. Missy Knight, communications manager for the city said they have a “user agreement” with the Middletown Pickleball Association.

“We work in collaboration with them on the maintenance of the courts. They have raised a considerable amount of funds over the years that goes towards the maintenance of the courts,” Knight said. “The city maintains Lefferson Park and works with the group to maintain the courts as well as surrounding space that they often use for tournaments and events.”

The township is planning on completing a master parks plan next year but in the meantime plan to make some improvements at Keehner Park — which is home to the township’s four permanent and two temporary pickleball courts.

Brown said they will look into putting in a shelter for shade, picnic tables and some wind blocking implements — at an estimated cost of $30,000. All three trustees agreed to that idea.

“We love seeing municipalities explore pickleball, “Dunn said. “I won’t kid you we are glad they are taking that kind of wait and see approach because we’re confident about about ability to meet the need of players in West Chester.”

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