If you were near the tennis courts at Sellwood Park in southeast Portland early in the morning of last month, you would have found a scene straight out of Tom sawyer: Nisa ‘Haron and seven of her friends clean and seal cracked concrete for free.
The eight retirees from Southeast Portland are avid participants in America’s most popular sport: pickleball.
They are part of the PDX Pickleball Club, which has 300 members and most often plays in Sellwood Park, where only two of the four tennis courts are in use. Not even a month ago the other two were spiders with cracks an inch and a half wide that made them unplayable.
The club decided to remedy this this spring. Members raised $ 9,000 to repair lands that Portland Parks & Recreation had neglected and, while they were there, turned them into pickleball courts. In June, Haron says, two park workers gave them permission to start work on their own. After all, she adds, the parks management assured the club in 2019 that turning two of the tennis courts into pickleball courts was part of their eventual plan.
But on July 9, two weeks after the repairs began, the parks office turned down the offer. A city worker ordered the club to stop repair work.
According to the club’s calculations, park officials told Haron and his friends that they would have to pay $ 1,000 to apply for a municipal permit and, if granted, an additional $ 2,500 per week in rent while the work would be completed.
Henrik Bothe, a club member who helped with the repairs, is disheartened. “It’s getting crazy in the park with the pickleball,” he says. “They’re just gangbusters. You will see the eight pickleball courts full of people, and not your typical athletes, many older people. “
Pickleball is one of America’s fastest growing sports. Attendance rose 23% last year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. The smallest scale in the game – it uses paddles instead of rackets, the field is a quarter the size of a tennis court, and the ball is hollow plastic with ventilation holes – makes it a pandemic favorite for people looking to socialize outdoors.
Still, Portland’s parks don’t contain a single, dedicated pickleball court. Lines are painted on a handful of tennis courts across town, but not enough to support the game’s growing popularity.
In fact, city documents show that 73 of the city’s 103 tennis courts are in poor condition.
Last November, city hall asked the public for an annual property tax of $ 48 million to maintain and protect parks, restore recreation programs and maintain parks. The city has sought taxpayer dollars after years of aggressive expansion and deferred maintenance. Faced with the threat of drastic cuts to services, voters overwhelmingly approved the funding.
This makes it all the more confusing that park officials have turned down an offer from pickleballers to repair the grounds on their own time and with their own money. It looks like the office wasted a perfect PR opportunity and a free upgrade.
“We wanted to do this without having to use taxpayer money, for ourselves but also for the good of our community,” explains Cathy Owen, club secretary and wife of Haron. “It sat for decades, unused.”
In response to questions from WWParks office spokesperson Mark Ross said: “There may have been some communication issues between the advocates and [the bureau]. We are working to dispel the confusion. We value the passion and advocacy of park users and sports fans. He declined to say whether the office would insist on charging the pickleball club rent for free repairs.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the parks office, said WW she regrets if there has been a lack of communication from the city, but says she is grateful to the club “for their enthusiasm and passion to bring greater access to sport to our parks”.
The parks office is well aware that most of the city’s tennis courts are in poor condition. This year, park officials have created a list of courts they plan to renovate in the coming years, including a number they want to rehabilitate to make them usable for other emerging sports like pickleball and futsal. .
The massive project is presented in a municipal document from June 2021 which details the parks that need to be repaired and those that could potentially be redeveloped into pickleball fields. Sellwood is one of them. The total estimated cost of the project is $ 7.73 million.
The project prioritizes parks in low income areas like Peninsula, Lents and Fernhill. Sellwood, a relatively prosperous neighborhood, is not on the priority list.
That’s why the PDX Pickleball Club thought the city was a winner.
The club sent a detailed project proposal on April 22 to a park maintenance worker. On June 24, Haron said, this employee gave the club the keys to the shed so they could access water and electricity. The volunteers worked for two weeks, from 6 a.m. to noon, with a 45-minute break to eat New Seasons sandwiches.
“It was brutal. We are not spring chickens, we are all in our fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, ”explains Haron, club manager.
And then on July 9, a park worker came in and told them they had to stop their work until they got a permit. They had filled all the cracks in the first two courts and were then working on a skim coat. He chained and locked the doors to the tennis courts.
Stephen Bouffard, who oversees the parks office’s permits, told Haron in an email on July 23 that their permit called for a change in use for the two main courts. In order to change the use of a park facility, Bouffard wrote, the proposal would have to go through a public process.
Bouffard said the parks plan for restoring and redeveloping the grounds of certain fields for other sports, such as pickleball, was in a “public engagement” process, and that plans for each land needing repairs would be finalized in September.
Until then, the club’s license would be kept on hold. “Thanks for the offer,” Bouffard wrote.
Haron says the club has already spent more than $ 9,000 on supplies for the repairs. Most confusing of all: City documents show the parks office has yet to determine how it will fund the restoration of the tennis courts.
“Parks sometimes get in their way,” says Elizabeth Milner, who lives nearby and operates a pickleball field. “In this case, it seems in the interest of engaging the audience. They are actually missing out on an opportunity to partner with an already engaged audience.
Correction: Due to an editor’s error, this story incorrectly stated that the levy passed by voters in November would restore a crumbling infrastructure. In effect, the levy funds the hiring of staff to maintain and protect parks, restore recreation programs, and maintain parks. It cannot be used for capital projects, such as renovating tennis courts. A 2014 bond measure funded such investment projects. WW regrets the error.