PUNTA GORDA — Free pickleball play at the PicklePlex of Punta Gorda could be ending at the 16-court facility in South Charlotte County.
The PicklePlex organization has maintained free public play since opening in June 2019 at Florida SouthWestern State College, 26300 Airport Road.
The city of Punta Gorda contributed around $65,000 toward construction of the facility with one court and utility work, according to city documents.
At Wednesday's meeting, the City Council will discuss whether they should weigh in on a proposal from the organization to charge membership fees for players since public funds went to its construction.
"It is unfortunate that in these times we are faced with no income stream and the realization that it takes almost $100,000 a year to run our complex," wrote PicklePlex Board President Ted Kegeris in a statement to city staff.
Kegeris wrote that they do intend to leave the courts open for free play from noon to 5 p.m. except during tournaments, "if and when we return to tournaments."
"We take this matter very seriously and look for other avenues of income," Kegeris said. "Please be assured we have taken the opinions of many of our players and they are very supportive, while a few are disappointed."
City Council members will also discuss how the change might affect pickleball at Gilchrist Park.
The public courts at Gilchrist have caused tension between some neighbors and players due to noise and other issues.
Punta Gorda resident and pickleball player Anastasia Settle told the Sun she is concerned about the change at PicklePlex.
"The Gilchrist Park courts are closer to where I live, but I don’t want to be an aggravation to neighbors," Settle said. "When PicklePlex opened up I started driving there to play instead of walking to Gilchrist. If it’s going to go private, (I feel) that is going to affect my play."
Settle said she does play indoors at times at the recreation center at Charlotte County-owned South County Regional Park, but it also costs to play there.
"It’s not that I’m not willing to pay," Settle said, "my issue is that (PicklePlex) was sold to the community as something that is going to be free to the community."
Currently, the PicklePlex organization is proposing an annual club membership fee of $200 a year, which is about 55 cents per day or $3.85 per week, according to a PicklePlex release.
Seasonal residents would be asked to pay a $150 fee for seven months and an occasional player would be charged a $5 drop-in fee.
The PicklePlex is funded by donations, tournaments and court rentals, not tax dollars, according to organizers.
Two tournaments, so far, were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The PicklePlex has always been a privately managed complex since it is not funded nor constructed with tax money," said Gloria Reilly of PicklePlex in an email to the Sun.
Mayor Nancy Prafke, who serves as a liaison between the city and the organization's board, told the Sun that all organizations that have a facility to manage must maintain a cash flow.
"(If you) look around at facilities in surrounding counties, many charge fees for use, including (in) Charlotte County," Prafke said.
In other news:
Punta Gorda staff will present contract information for the incoming city manager at Wednesday's meeting.
During a June 24 special meeting, the City Council heard interviews of five candidates to replace long-time manager Howard Kunik.
They narrowed it down to Gregory Murray, a county administrator for Washington County, Maryland, for around 10 years.