More pickleball courts, stadium coming to East Naples Community Park
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East Naples Community Park is set to receive $23.4 million in upgrades, including more pickleball courts, a welcome center and a 3,500-seat championship stadium.
The park, which has become a pickleball mecca in recent years, has hosted the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships since 2016 and its existing 54 courts are frequented by daily players.
The project’s first phase, which will cost approximately $1.8 million, will upgrade electrical, water and wireless access and add 10 pickleball courts by April 2020, according to a master plan county commissioners approved this week.
The initial upgrades will help event organizers meet the needs of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship, said Chris Evon, a co-founder of Spirit Promotions LLC, the company that runs the U.S. Open.
Access to improved electricity and wireless Internet will help the event run more efficiently while the extra courts will accommodate demands for more space, Evon said.
“The demand not only for the U.S. Open but for daily play is still increasing so we asked for more courts. The U.S. Open, we pull in 2,100 people, but we turn away about 1,000 people. So, we know that more people want to come to the U.S. Open, we just don’t have the space,” she said.
The second phase of upgrades will include a 3,500-seat Championship Pickleball Stadium, more than 1,000 additional parking spots, a community center and a new welcome center.
The welcome center, which is set to be completed in 2021, will bring much-needed additional bathrooms to the park, said Barry Williams, the county's parks and recreation director.
"The big thing is we're going to start the design of a welcome center that would include adequate bathrooms for this facility. It was designed in the '80s with a different use and now this has become kind of an event center," he said.
The Phase 2 improvements will cost approximately $21.5 million. Although funding for the second phase of upgrades has not been secured, the money will likely come from an array of county funding sources, Williams said.
In the past four years, the county has invested more than $3 million in East Naples Community Park, converting areas designed for skateboarding and tennis into pickleball courts, installing a shade structure and making other improvements.
The investments have drawn people from across the United States and the world to play pickleball in Naples, said Terri Graham, who co-founded Spirit Promotions LLC with Evon.
“In the pickleball world, it’s truly become the bucket list for people,” Graham said.
On a recent morning, Steve and Linda Bell of Virginia Beach, Virginia, played pickleball at East Naples Community Park for the first time. The couple traveled to Naples to play pickleball at the park.
“We came because we heard about this place so we want to play it,” Steve said.
“Pickleball brings people everywhere. That’s what’s so great," Linda added.
Urs Winzenried, who plays pickleball at East Naples Community Park at least three times each week, said he thinks the planned improvements will help keep the U.S. Open in Naples and will benefit the economy.
“It’s going to add more business and more traffic. It’s definitely a good development for East Naples,” said Winzenried. “Without investments (the U.S. Open) probably would go to Scottsdale, Palm Springs, some place with more money, so it’s good for the economy.”
Ray Mohr, who plays pickleball at the park about five times each week, said he welcomes the improvements, but hopes the new courts and other additions will receive adequate maintenance.
“I know they build these things … but they got to maintain it,” Mohr said.
Although the timeline for completing the park's master plan is still uncertain, Williams said the improvements will depend on funding and the upgrades needed at other county parks.
"Funding is always the question, but we think the momentum of this facility ... will help us with our prioritization," he said.
Behind the Headlines: U.S. Pickleball Championship in Naples