Possible site, cost of Niles pickleball courts discussed by council

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT More than a dozen pickleball enthusiasts attended Monday's Niles City Council meeting. In front, from left is Doug Clark, Diana Clark and Russell WArd.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
More than a dozen pickleball enthusiasts attended Monday’s Niles City Council meeting. In front, from left is Doug Clark, Diana Clark and Russell WArd.

The approximate cost and potential location for a set of courts dedicated to the sport of pickleball — a cross between tennis and ping pong — was discussed Monday by the Niles City Council during a Committee of the Whole meeting.

The city does not have a court, although there are four at Fireman’s Park in Niles Township. A group of pickleball enthusiasts has been urging the city to build courts in recent months.

Joe Ray, director of public works, said the most desirable option would be to construct four pickleball courts at the site of the city’s ice-skating rink, which is located on Front Street across from the skate park.

Ray described it as a dual-purpose facility that would be built in such away that it could be used for pickleball in the warm months and ice-skating in the cold months.

A preliminary estimate for construction is $45,000.

Ray said he’s been working with a group of area pickleball players to come up with the plan.

He said he researched several different sites, including Plym Park, Eastside Park, Southside Park and Riverfront Park, but settled on the ice-rink area because of its location and the fact that it would cost less to build there than at the other potential sites.

The city would need to clear a few hurdles to get the project going.

Administrator Ric Huff said AEP owns the “ice-rink” property and allows the city to lease it for the purpose of having an ice rink.

That lease, he said, has expired.

Huff said the city would need permission from AEP to build on the land and a new “lengthy” lease agreement to justify spending money on the proposed facility.

Councilman Dan VandenHeede suggested a lease of at least 25 years.

Another hurdle would be finding money for the project.

Mayor Mike McCauslin said the city has between $60,000 and $80,000 budgeted for building a new parking lot in Plym Park — a project that is no longer going to happen.

However, the mayor said he is not ready to see the city bear all the cost.

“I think they (pickleball supporters) ought to have some skin in the game too,” he said.

Ray said pickleball supporters have already shown a willingness to get involved, including volunteering to fix cracks at the tennis courts at Plym Park prior to the city’s first pickleball tournament there in August.

“It was very exciting to me to see… that it wasn’t one or two people who showed up to do the work — they were serious about it and there were a lot of people,” Ray said.

About a dozen pickleball supporters attended Monday’s meeting and several spoke in favor of building the courts.

Doug Clark, founder of Southwest Michigan Pickleball, said pickleball tournaments held in Niles could generate money for local businesses.

Bryan Rodgers, also of Southwest Michigan Pickleball, said the sport is growing and that he trained 60 new players this year.

Curtis Smith, owner of Niles-based Paddletek — a company that makes pickleball paddles — said people drive two to three hours just to visit his facility.

Cindy Cataldo, owner of Massimo’s Pizza in Niles and a member of the city’s parks board, said she hopes the city can find a way to build the courts close to downtown.

The city is expected to discuss the issue more at its next council meeting Sept. 28.