All the courts are full after opening ceremonies for six new pickleball courts Thursday afternoon at Stolley Park in Grand Island. Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis. The sport, which can be played by two or four people, is rapidly growing in popularity across the country and here in Grand Island. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

The pickleball phenomenon in Grand Island got a huge push forward as the Grand Island City Council Tuesday agreed to go ahead in building eight new pickleball courts at the Veterans Sports Complex.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, a proposal to request design services for new pickleball courts was on the council’s consent agenda, a list of city business items that the council agrees to approve without discussion. On Tuesday’s consent agenda, there were 27 items.

Council President Vaughn Minton asked to pull the item about the pickleball courts for further discussion. More than 20 members of the Grand Island Pickleball Club were in the audience to support the proposal. Brad Mellema, Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau director, was also on hand to support the plan.

Todd McCoy, city parks and recreation director, said on Sept. 15, the Parks and Recreation Department advertised for proposals to design eight new pickleball courts at the Veterans Sports Complex.

He told the council that his department has teamed up with the Grand Island Pickleball Club in planning and support of the project. The Pickleball Club has raised more than $70,000 through fundraising efforts.

McCoy said preliminary construction estimates for the new pickleball courts are between $300,000 and $400,000. Food and beverage tax proceeds will be used for expenses beyond private donations.

While the entire council voted to approve the plan to build the new pickleball courts, Minton and other council members expressed concern about the price tag. There were also concerns about whether it will take away from other projects the Parks and Recreation Department has planned using food and beverage tax money.

The council members also expressed concerns about whether pickleball is a passing fad and spending the amount of money requested would be in the best interest of people of Grand Island.

McCoy told the council that pickleball is one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports and Grand Island is not an exception to that trend.

Nita Lechner, president of the Pickleball Club in Grand Island, said that pickleball quickly gained popularity in Grand Island. The sport appeals to people ages 12 to 82 years of age who have been active in the club.

Pickleball is a paddleball sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. Two or four players use solid paddles to hit a ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net.

Lechner said since the sport started catching on in Grand Island several years ago, its popularity has increased. Membership in the Pickleball Club has been as high as 300.

While pickleball is a sport that can be enjoyed by all ages, it has especially caught on with older people.

She said about 75 percent of pickleball players are 55 years or older. Pickleball provides physical exercise and is a great tool to allow people to socialize with others.

Those are two critical elements for older people, whose population is on the rise, especially as people live longer.

One of the arguments brought up about using food and beverage tax money for the pickleball courts is that the sport is for older people. But supporters of the pickleball courts said the sport is for all ages. They also countered, using the Veterans Sports Complex as an example, that the city has already heavily invested in youth sports.

One of the reasons for locating the pickleball courts at the Veterans Sports Complex is it has become a symbol of recreational activities in Grand Island. The complex has many ball and soccer fields, and pickleball courts would add to the diversity of the recreational complex. It is next to Eagle Scout Lake with its paved walking trail and fishing opportunities.

Another sign of pickleball’s growing popularity is that the Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and Fonner Park have partnered to sponsor pickleball tournaments in December and February at the Heartland Events Center.

Mellema said the tournaments have the possibility of drawing thousands of people from throughout Nebraska and surrounding states to Grand Island. He said those visitors will be staying at local motels and eating in local restaurants and shopping at local stores, all adding to the prosperity of Grand Island’s economy.

McCoy also said Grand Island has recently seen a substantial increase in the number of players using city facilities, whether it be the field house at Fonner Park, Stolley Park, or some other city-owned recreational facility.

Three proposals were received to design the new courts, from Olsson of Lincoln, Nebraska JEO Consulting Group of Wahoo and Nebraska Multicon, Inc. of Wichita, Kan. The recommendation was to accept the JEO Consulting Group proposal to design the eight new pickleball courts at a cost of $26,300.

The council also voted Tuesday to hold a study session on Dec. 10 on a proposal to increase residential and commercial rates for the city’s wastewater treatment system. In making the motion, Councilman Chuck Haase said the council should explore other options before agreeing to a rate increase.

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