Split park board backs paddle tennis in Wilmette
Nikhil Lele of Wilmette throws the football at the target at last year's Summerfest in Wilmette. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: 4-3 park board vote in favor of project
WHERE: West Park
COST: Preliminary estimate of $1.2-$1.5 million to build
Updated: August 22, 2012 3:38AM
A narrowly split Wilmette Park District board agreed Monday to go forward with building a four-court paddle tennis facility at West Park, despite fears from dissenters that the project finances and revenue projections hadn’t been as carefully thought out as they should have been.
A four-to-three vote saw Commissioners John Olvany, Darrell Graham and Gary Benz take issue with the project, which staff have estimated could cost between $1.2-$1.5 million to build. There were more pressing needs to tackle, Olvany and Graham said: work on the lakefront, including the Gillson Park beach house, already budgeted work at the Centennial ice arena and major planned work at the Wilmette Golf Club.
Olvany said his analysis of financial projections didn’t lead him to think a paddle tennis operation would automatically do better than break even, as an analysis provided by staff suggests. Nor, he said, did the sparse number of residents attending recent paddle tennis hearings convince him that most district residents were interested.
“From my perspective, the community’s interest in this is underwhelming to say the least,” Olvaney said.
Benz agreed with Olvany and Graham, saying “I can’t possibly think any of my fellow commissioners would think that this project should move ahead of other things in line, like lake front work … this particular motion is way too premature.”
But board President Jim Brault and commissioners Shelly Shelley, James Crowley and Mike Murdoch backed the motion to approve the facility’s construction, and to direct staff to issue requests for design proposals.
Brault said he agreed with projections that a Wilmette paddle tennis 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 Park District paddle tennis facility, he said.
He and Shelley also insisted that there is a long term interest in paddle tennis from Wilmette residents; an initial survey of residents several years ago found that several hundred would support a facility, or play at one if the district built one, they said. Murdoch said he believed the revenue projections and other planning figures were actually very conservative.
Park district officials first considered paddle tennis, which is played on enclosed and heated outdoor courts, in 2009. In early 2010 about 68 percent of 800 people responding to a district survey reportedly indicated they would support paddle tennis.
This year, the district held two public hearings on the proposal; the first attracted about 20 people and the second about five.
A copy of the district’s 2010 paddle tennis report is available for viewing at www.wilmettepark.org.