PUNTA GORDA — The PicklePlex of Punta Gorda has been an economic slam for Charlotte County in 2021 so far, local tourism officials say.
In only three months, the sports complex has served up almost $2.5 million from events and other activities.
“The economic impact generated by both the World Pickleball Championship (in February), as well as the APP Punta Gorda Open in January, were much needed, especially given the negative effects of the pandemic,” said Sean Doherty, tourism director at the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau.
“While both events took place in a time period that is typically part of our peak season, this year of course was different and these events helped to mitigate at least a portion of the COVID-induced losses.”
Pickleball, a hybrid of badminton, table tennis and tennis, has become one of the most popular recreational sports in Southwest Florida.
This year’s World Championship tournament was held Feb. 3-7, showcasing the world’s top players based on global rankings.
The event generated $956,356 for the area, including 1,400 room stays for area hotels. More than 1,000 spectators watched the five-day event.
The World Pickleball Championship wasn’t even the biggest win this year for the sports complex, located at Florida SouthWestern State College, 26300 Airport Road, in Punta Gorda.
“Since the start of 2021, the PicklePlex of Punta Gorda has been able to generate over $2.48 million for the local economy,” said PicklePlex board member Gloria Reilly. “The greatest impact came from the APP Punta Gorda Open ($1.085 million) followed by the World Pickleball Championship.
“Our own local Spring Fling tournament (in March) earned almost $302,000 for the county.”
Reilly said the nonprofit PicklePlex organization also hosted several pickleball training camps that generated another almost $140,000 in economic impact.
“While pickleball is typically viewed as a sport that appeals to the older population, the reality is that the median age of pickleball players continues to go down,” Doherty said. “This helps to expand the pool of potential participants and include more families, which equates to an increase in potential economic impact.”
The first phase of PicklePlex officially opened in June 2019, providing 16 courts for the Southwest Florida area and attracting players from all over the region.
Going forward, Reilly said their organization will be focusing more on those players and less on the larger tournaments.
“Where the PicklePlex board of directors is thrilled to have helped generate dollars for the county, we regret to say that we will not be holding such large tournaments in the future,” Reilly said. “We have a strong membership, and the board has decided to focus on providing the best playing environment for them.”
When the PicklePlex opened, the plan was to eventually build an additional eight courts at the site; however, that idea has been on hold for now due to funding.
“The large national and international tournaments like the APP and World Championship had to turn away participants since we do not have enough courts to accommodate those larger number of players,” Reilly said. “We have not given up hope for an additional eight courts and will go forward with a capital campaign, but we do not see the expansion taking place anytime soon.”
Since the PicklePlex opened its gates, it has contributed over $5.7 million in economic impact to Charlotte County.