Sports

Park City’s pickleball community calls for equal rights to public courts

The growing popularity of pickleball means growing tensions between tennis and pickleball players for indoor court time

PARK CITY, Utah — Anyone living in Park City knows that the popularity of pickleball has grown exponentially over the past few years. What you may not know about is the tension surrounding booking court time at the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center (PC MARC). Pickleball players are at odds with the PC MARC facility management and tennis players over what pickleball advocates say is an antiquated and unfair policy for booking court time.

The bubble at the PC MARC
The bubble at the PC MARC. Photo: TownLift // Dani Miles

The MARC is a public recreation facility managed by Park City Municipal and has 11 tennis courts, four pickleball courts, a basketball gymnasium, a bouldering wall, a game room, childcare, an indoor track, cardio equipment, three group fitness studios and more.

A recent petition on change.org, started by pickleball enthusiasts, seeks equal access for booking pickleball and tennis at the PC MARC. The petition claims “tennis has exclusive use of all 4 courts in the main building, and they also get the vast majority of court booking opportunities in the bubble. Pickleball is relegated to booking off-hours and a small fraction of the overall time.”

The PC MARC advertised hourly rate for indoor tennis is $34 per hour and pickleball is listed at $17 / hour in the bubble. According to Ken Fisher, Recreation Director for Park City Municipal, pickleball players receive a 50% fee reduction in court booking time in the bubble because the times are considered “excess capacity,” which, according to pickleball player Gene DeSantis, “… is a euphemism for crappy hours that tennis players don’t want and don’t use.”

Pickleball proponents also argue that there is no fee reduction for the “excess capacity” times, as pickleball occupies half the area of tennis. Reserving two pickleball courts, which collectively equal the size of one tennis court, incurs identical costs.

“While the MARC was indeed built for tennis, it stopped being a private tennis club some 20 years ago, when it failed financially and was purchased by Park City. The MARC is not a tennis facility — It is a Municipal Athletic and Recreation Center. Pickleball is every bit as much of a recreational activity as tennis,” DeSantis proclaims.

The petition claims the underlying problem is that the MARC will not allow any pickleball to be played in the bubble facility while tennis is being played. So if one court is being used for tennis the remaining courts would be empty and vise versa if pickleball is being played on one court. With the current limitations in available court time, many Park City pickleball players choose to drive to Sandy or Heber City to find a place to play.

Times in black are available to book, Red are blocked.
Times in black are available to book, red are blocked.

Side-by-side play

DeSantis, an advocate for equal court time, has proposed a solution that includes allowing side-by-side play on a first-come, first-served basis. He believes this would promote fair play while helping maximize the public facility’s revenue.

Fisher, cited that the Recreation Department manages the courts in the bubble by giving dedicated separate time to both tennis and pickleball.

Fisher said that, as with city pools, fields and park pavilions, “scheduling facilities reduces conflict and sets expectations for patrons and staff, resulting in a higher level of customer satisfaction.” Fisher also mentioned that if there is dedicated time that is not being used by either pickleball or tennis, the time is released for the other to use.

Fisher said to TownLift, “We don’t have the desired facilities to meet the current pickleball demand.” He went on to say that,

“It seems that instead of constantly trying to take access from other users and relying on the government to meet this demand, the pickleball community should focus on funding a private facility that can better meet their needs.”

According to Fisher the MARC is actively releasing more time for pickleball. Stating that this past November the MARC released 354 court hours in the bubble to pickleball as compared to 198 hours the prior year (2022).

Dedicated times for Pickleball

  • Monday:  6-8 a.m.  (Bubble); 12:00pm-3:00pm (Clinics Gym)
  • Tuesday:  6-8 a.m.  (Bubble); 8 a.m. -12 p.m. (Gym); 6:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. (Bubble)
  • Wednesday 6-8 a.m. (Bubble); 9:00am-3:00pm (Clinics Gym)
  • Thursday:  6-8 a.m.  (Bubble); 8 a.m. -12 p.m. (Gym); 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. (Bubble)
  • Friday: 6-8 a.m.  (Bubble); 8 a.m. -12 p.m. (Gym); 4:30 -10:00pm (Bubble)
  • Saturday: 4:30pm-9:00pm
  • Sunday: 1-9 p.m.

Fisher says that currently while Pickleball is being played in the gym tennis is being played on the tennis courts at the same time

Adding to the pressure for court time

This past election cycle, a $30 million dollar recreation bond failed to be passed. The bond would have helped fund the addition of dedicated indoor pickleball facilities, more outdoor pickleball courts, in addition to other recreation amenities. Fisher said, “We have not passed a recreation bond in Park City since 2001, and I don’t see us putting a recreation bond back on the ballot at any time in the future.”

There are 7 public indoor tennis courts in Summit County and 14 public courts available for pickleball in Summit County, including at the MARC (4 courts ), Basin Recreation Fieldhouse (6 courts), and South Summit Aquatic and Fitness Center (4 courts) excluding the bubble courts.

Do you think pickleball players should have the same access to court time as tennis players at the PC MARC?

Survey Results as of Jan. 15, 2024

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EDITORS NOTE: A line was added to the article to reflect that pickleball advocates do not feel there is a reduction in the fees for court time based off the square footage of a pickleball court being half the size of a tennis court.

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