When the CIty of Mount Dora presented a preliminary concept to build 18-24 pickleball courts on land in the city’s Northeast Community, the reaction from the area’s advisory committee and the residents in attendance was a predictable mix of polite frustration, disappointment and perplexity.
Pickleball courts, let alone the proposed tournament venue, didn’t resemble any of the stated priorities for Mount Dora’s historically lower income Northeast Community. Rather, affordable housing and a community recreation and resource center with after-school activities were high on its lengthy ladder of needs.
The idea for a pickleball tournament facility in the Northeast began when the City demolished its dilapidated Public Works building on the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Highland Street which had blighted that community for several years.
The demolition resulted in the 4.3 acre site in the Northeast being available for redevelopment, and since the land is adjacent to Lincoln Park’s western tennis courts, the expansion of recreational amenities was a logical proposal. However, pickleball courts, let alone a tournament venue, did not align with the area’s priorities, according to all of the members of the Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Committee and residents in attendance at the committee's January 14th meeting.
City of Mount Dora Director of Leisure Services, Amy Jewell, presented rough drawings at the meeting and stated the pickleball venue was in very early conceptual stages, but staff had been given the green light by the CIty Council to explore grants which could fund a pickleball complex at the site. Jewell noted a $200,000 grant for pickleball courts could be pursued, plus Lake County’s matching grant program for projects that attract tourism to the county could also help fund the complex. Jewell’s intention was to seek input at the meeting from the members.
Jewell stated that the City has 70 active pickleball players and they have been requesting more courts for two years, so when the new site became available in the Northeast, she thought it could be the solution. The issue -- the Northeast Community has been patiently waiting to have its more basic priorities of affordable housing and a community center for children and adults for far longer than two years. Additionally, those projects could positively impact a more diverse demographic and than just 70 part-time and full-time residents.
The Northeast CRA committee members, along with a few residents that spoke, were united in sending a firm message that the City missed an opportunity to present a concept that understood and addressed the specific priorities of the Northeast community.
The Lincoln Avenue site is walking-distance from the City’s public high school and middle school, so it uniquely lends itself to a recreational facility with after-school programs and resources for the Northeast Community, as well as the entire City.
The Northeast CRA Advisory Committee members were unambiguous in their message that even if the City used other land for affordable housing, pickleball courts in that community were an ill-conceived idea. The committee was also unified in expressing the desire for the City to be more diligent about understanding the community’s important and long-standing priorities.
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