OUR POSITION: PicklePlex is a welcome addition to the Charlotte County landscape.
Zero, zero, two.
The call to start a pickleball game, which tells the score and identifies the server, can finally be heard at PicklePlex.
It took a while — the ceremonial groundbreaking took place in October 2017 — but here it is on ground donated by Florida SouthWestern State College. Three outdoor courts opened June 3. Another four were scheduled for later in the week. All 16 were to be open by the end of the following week.
Original plans called for PicklePlex to eventually include 32 outdoor courts, eight indoor courts, a fitness center with a pro shop, a restaurant and bar, and a conference center.
The original cost estimate was $4 million. It probably will cost more, just as it took longer to reach this point than any of the organizers had anticipated. But in the history of construction, what project didn’t take longer and cost more?
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for 5:30 p.m. June 24.
A lot is expected of PicklePlex. It is seen as an economic generator. The courts are sanctioned, so the complex will be able to host big-time tournaments — following the example of Naples, which hosts the U.S. Open and reaps the financial rewards that come with its draw.
“It’s going to be an economic engine, a significant tourism boost,” Punta Gorda Mayor Nancy Prafke, the city liaison to the pickleball community, said during the ceremony. “The people who come here, they’ll stay in the hotels and they’ll eat in the restaurants.”
She also called it an “important project for our community.”
It’s important to the players for the most basic of reasons: It offers them a place to play. PicklePlex is expected to alleviate some of the overcrowding that has plagued pickleball courts in Charlotte County, particularly those at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda. Before PicklePlex opened, Charlotte County (pop. 182,000) had eight outdoor dedicated public pickleball courts. Those eight — all at Gilchrist — were reduced to four the day PicklePlex opened because the city shut them down.
The Punta Gorda City Council decided in January to make that cut when PicklePlex opened. At the time, organizers were pointing to a February start.
Locating public pickleball courts at Gilchrist was a good idea. Unfortunately, it generated unforeseen consequences that were not so good. The noise created by hard-surface paddles striking plastic balls irritated neighbors. Their complaints were almost equal in volume to the source of their grievance.
It all came to an absurd head when the Punta Gorda City Council had to call an emergency meeting the Sunday before Christmas.
A lot of credit must be given to the organizers of PicklePlex, beginning with the nonprofit association’s board president, Ted Kegeris. The other members of the board are vice president Joel Shaffer, secretary-treasurer Gloria Reilly, director of pickleball activities Dave Fox, director of fundraising Sue Carman, and director of operations Doug Gammie.
Those folks showed much patience and great resilience.
Prafke said in 2017 that PicklePlex represented the culmination of a “vision of what the possibilities could be.”
One of those possibilities just became a reality.