Is a partnership of Punta Gorda, Florida, and PicklePlex safe for the city?

  • By DANIEL SUTPHIN Staff Writer – Jan 25, 2020

Pickleball under the lights at PicklePlex of Punta Gorda at Florida SouthWestern State College. The question is about a partnership city council has approved.

PUNTA GORDA — Despite liability concerns, the Punta Gorda City Council agreed to a partnership between the city and PicklePlex at Florida Southwestern State College for future phase two development of the pickleball complex.

The sports complex in south Charlotte County currently has 16 courts open for the public and for use by regional and national tournaments. Phase two would bring in an additional 19 courts, concession stands and restrooms for an estimated cost around $915,000.

“I think this shoots off a hundred red flags,” said Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews at Wednesday’s city council meeting. “I think the liability for the city is enormous. People can sue people over anything (these days) and I’m very concerned about the liability to the city (with this partnership).”

PicklePlex representatives said that the city would not be liable for any actions at the facility.

“Responsibility for the management, liability insurance and maintenance of the facility will be the sole responsibility of PicklePlex,” said Gloria Riley, Pickleplex secretary and treasurer. “The city will not be responsible for any financial obligations.”

The other city council members did not feel the same as Matthews, however, and the partnership was approved 4 to 1.

The deal will allow the city to be considered owners of the second phase of development at the PicklePlex (26300 Airport Road), but really only by name. The reason for the partnership is so the facility can request funding support from Charlotte County through its tourism development tax revenue, or TDT, according to city documents.

TDT revenue can be used to construct a pickleball complex if the complex is owned and operated by a public entity, such as the city.

“If the county uses tourism tax dollars to fund phase two, it can only be used if there is a public ownership of phase two improvements. That is why PicklePlex is coming to us,” said City Manager Howard Kunik. “They’re not asking the city for any dollars. They are asking for us to partner with them.”

Due to the complex’s positive economic impact with the current 16 courts, the majority of the City Council was all in for the partnership.

“I see this as being able make us an international player in this (sport) and I think it’s a good thing for the city,” said Council Member Jaha Cummings.

“Even when there are tournaments, and I believe that the city can work something out with them, that if they get 19 more courts we will be able to keep some courts open for open play and I think that’s imperative,” said Council Member Debby Carey.

At the end of December 2019, the PicklePlex hosted the first-ever Pickleball World Championship.

The four-day event had an almost $758,000 economic impact on the county, according to numbers provided by the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau. More than 1,000 hotel room nights in the county were booked as a result of the event.

The funding request still has to go before the county before any real development can take place.

The county is aware of the city’s approval of the partnership, said County Communications Manager Brian Gleason, “but we have not been contacted regarding any future funding request (at this time).”


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