First tennis hearing largely positive in Wilmette
People play at the Winnetka Park District's platform tennis courtsback in April. Wilmette Park District is considering building paddle/platform tennis courts. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Platform tennis courts
WHERE: West Park
HOW MUCH: $1.2 million proposed
Updated: August 22, 2012 3:38AM
A sparse but generally receptive room of Wilmette residents told Wilmette Park Board members Monday that they supported bringing paddle tennis courts into West Park, during the first of two hearings on the proposal.
Most people who came to the hearing at the Community Recreation Center agreed with commissioners that building a four-court paddle, or platform, tennis facility at West Park would draw patrons from Wilmette and beyond, including those now playing at the Winnetka Park District’s very busy facility.
“Chicago is a Mecca for platform tennis … the sport is growing, growing, growing,” long time player Jeff Martin said. Martin, of Park Avenue, plays at the Winnetka courts, said he and his wife would support the project and could probably bring in 25 more customers from their neighborhood alone.
“This is going to sustain itself,” he said. “It will pay for itself.”
Park board president James Brault said commissioners will hold another hearing on June 25 at Wilmette village hall before making a decision, even though the project has gotten thumbs up at the committee level. Budgeting would have to follow, he said, but the district would pay for the project, very preliminarily estimated at $1.2 million, from reserves and wouldn’t have to issue bonds or raise taxes.
Brault cautioned that numbers could change, but that planners believe the operation would break even with a minimum of 250 people paying $400 to $500 a year for memberships, That’s fewer than the roughly 500 members estimated to belong to the Winnetka facility. It’s also a lower cost than Forest Avenue resident Scott Green said he currently pays in Winnetka.
Birchwood Avenue resident Ed Hungler said the project shouldn’t stint on the so-called paddle hut, he advised, because socializing is a key part of paddle tennis’s popularity. Elmwood Avenue resident Aaron Shepard said is should plan for expansion and have enough parking. Brault confirmed that plans call for about 75 parking space.
Green asked if the district couldn’t control costs by partnering with another park district or paddle tennis facility. Brault said Glenview’s park district, which plans its own facility, had approached Wilmette, “but we thought Glenview was too far from us.”
Audience members weren’t uniformly amenable. Maple Avenue resident Suzy Strauss was skeptical of the board’s financing plan, asking board member Mike Murdock “how much money do you have hanging about in the reserves?” Mark Weyermuller of Lawndale Avenue said he liked the game, but would prefer to see a private business, like Lifetime Fitness, do it because “often private companies can run things better than government.”
Fourth Street resident Karl said he liked the board’s level of research and openess, despite having heard less than salutary reports about the park district from neighbors: “They said ‘Those ‘expletive deleted’ are out of control.’ But from what I’ve seen here, that’s not the case … With the advice that you should stay conservative and keep an eye on money, I have to say you’ve kind of won me over tonight.”