On Wednesday March 30th 2022, Seattle Parks held the first of two public meetings about their new outdoor pickleball study.
Seattle Parks said they will publish their meeting notes. I’m expecting they will be post them on their project web page.
In the meantime, people keep asking me what happened at the meeting. Here are my notes and my attempt at answering your most frequent questions.
Was this meeting about pickleball in the city of Seattle or the entire Seattle metro area?
It was organized by Seattle Parks to share the plan they are currently developing for the future of outdoor pickleball in the city of Seattle proper.
In five minutes or less, what is in the plan?
Seattle Parks’ plan is considering:
- painting pickleball lines on more outdoor tennis courts in the next two years,
- turning some little used outdoor tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts in the next two to five years,
- creating new dedicated outdoor pickleball facilities in the next five to ten years.
Overall, it is a good plan. The devil will be in the details. Speaking of details:
- Seattle Parks still only wants to paint lines for 2 pickleball courts per tennis court. In contrast, Shoreview Park (the site of the Seattle Metro Pickleball Classic tournament) hosts 6 pickleball courts on two tennis courts.
- Seattle Parks still thinks that blue pickleball lines are good enough for you and yellow pickleball lines would be too confusing for both tennis and pickleball players.
- The current version of the plan does not yet specify exactly which tennis courts will get new pickleball court lines in the short term, or exactly which tennis courts might be converted into dedicated pickleball courts in the medium term. Will all the tennis courts located next to community centers be lined for pickleball? Will pickleball players have access to large clusters of co-located courts?
- The plan currently says nothing about having pickleball courts that have lights for evening play.
- Seattle Parks is slowly accepting the importance of the “open play” pickleball culture and considering creating specific dedicated times for open play pickleball on some dual-use courts. They are already doing it at Miller, Delridge and Walt Hundley. We can only hope they will expand it to more locations.
There will be one more public meeting in early May where Seattle Parks will share an updated version of their plan with site and neighborhood-specific proposals.
Seattle Parks will then present the final plan to Seattle’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners in May or June for approval.
What is new?
Seattle Parks acknowledged pickleball’s rapid growth.
- Oliver Bazinet, Senior Planner, said Seattle Parks is keenly aware that pickleball is growing rapidly and has benefits. Seattle Parks wants to plan for it.
- Andy Sheffer, Deputy Superintendent of Operations, introduced the meeting by saying that he is a huge advocate of outdoor recreation and therefore outdoor pickleball is important to him.
Seattle Parks is relaxing their policy of promoting multi-use courts exclusively and is now considering creating some dedicated pickleball courts in the medium and long term.
What are the objectives of the new Outdoor Pickleball Study?
- Document the growth of pickleball in Seattle
- Refine where and how tennis courts will be dual-striped
- Identify and recommend locations for new pickleball-only courts
Why are tennis players involved?
Adding pickleball lines to existing tennis courts has impact on the tennis community and therefore Seattle Parks is making sure to involve tennis players.
How many people attended the meeting?
About 130 people attended. About 73% were pickleball players, 7% were tennis players, 15% played both sports, and 4% played neither sport.
How is the pickleball study reaching out to the tennis and pickleball communities?
- Seattle Parks conducted interviews
- They have an Advisory Committee whose role is to collaborate with Seattle Parks and each other to provide insight into developing new recreational opportunities for pickleball.
- They ran an online survey in January 2022
- They have planned two community meetings: The first one happened on March 30th and is the one we are talking about here. The second one will happen in early May.
Who is on the Advisory Committee?
- The person in charge of Seattle Parks’ Amy Yee Tennis Center
- Two members of the Amy Yee Tennis Center Advisory Council
- A member of the Amy Yee Tennis Foundation
- The General Manager and Co-Founder of Tennis Center Sandpoint
- Someone from Seattle Parks’ Lifelong Recreation team
- A community member who plays both tennis and pickleball
- Another community member who might be a pickleball player but has not attended most advisory committee meetings
- A director of the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association
The names of the Advisory Committee members were provided at the meeting. I’m letting Seattle Parks decide whether or not to publish them more widely.
Keep in mind that the Advisory Committee is not creating the plan. Seattle Parks is creating the plan and asking for input from the Advisory Committee as it sees fit.
What is Seattle Parks’ new outdoor pickleball plan?
The plan has three components: Short-term, mid-term, and long-term.
Keep in mind that this plan is not set in stone. If you see something you love or something you don’t like, let Seattle Parks know.
What is the short-term plan?
- In the short-term, Seattle Parks wants to add pickleball court lines to some neighborhood and community tennis courts throughout the city.
- Increases the number of pickleball courts to accommodate the demand
- Can begin this summer
- Can be spread throughout the city
- Decreases availability of tennis courts
- Dual-striping may be confusing for players
- Increased probability of on-court conflict
Q: The short-term plan is to add pickleball court lines to some “neighborhood and community tennis courts”. What exactly are “neighborhood and community tennis courts”?
There are about 32 locations with a total of 60 tennis courts that are “neighborhood courts” that have single or double tennis courts without lights. Think of the Georgetown or the Dearborn Park courts.
There are 18 locations with a total of 50 tennis courts that are “community courts”. These courts are located near community centers or have amenities such as lights and parking. Think of the Miller or Bitter Lake courts.
There are also two more locations with 6 tennis courts each that are “regional courts” and do not qualify. I believe these are the Solstice Park courts and the Meadowbrook courts.
The lower woodland tennis courts and the Amy Yee tennis courts are “major court complexes” and do not qualify.
Q: Is Seattle Parks planning to paint pickleball line on all neighborhood and community tennis courts?
Not all. Some.
Q: Which neighborhood and community tennis courts get new pickleball lines
Seattle Parks has not yet released a list.
Q: Don’t the Solstice Park tennis courts see very little use?
That is my impression as well.
Q: How many pickleball courts would Seattle Parks paint on two, three or four adjacent tennis courts?
Seattle Parks is planning to keep painting two pickleball courts per tennis court.
Q: Why are the Amy Yee and Lower Woodland tennis courts excluded?
They host USTA-sanctioned tournaments. Such tournaments can’t be held where there are pickleball lines on the courts.
Q: What is the mid-term plan?
- In the mid-term, Seattle Parks proposes to convert some existing old low-usage tennis courts to dedicated pickleball courts.
- Increases the number of pickleball courts to accommodate the demand
- Higher density of co-located courts
- Would create courts for wheelchair pickleball
- Decreases availability of tennis courts
- SPR will need approval from the communities where these courts are currently located
- Some courts might require significant rehabilitation
Q: What do you mean when you say converting tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts would provide “higher density of co-located courts”?
A: Let’s take a location that has two tennis courts on a single slab of concrete, with fences all around. Seattle Parks would paint lines for four pickleball courts in that space if they wanted to make it available to both tennis and pickleball players. Seattle Parks is saying that if they replaced the two tennis courts with pickleball courts, they would fit five or six pickleball courts in the same space. Here is an image that shows how Seatle Parks proposes that the space formerly occupied by two tennis courts could be modified to contain four regular pickleball courts, and one pickleball court that meets the playing area recommendations for wheelchair play as specified in sections 2.A.3 and 2.A.4 of the IFP rulebook.
What is the long-term plan?
The long-term plan is to construct new dedicated pickleball facilities.
- increases the number of pickleball courts that are co-located
- does not impact tennis
- reduces open space
- likely most costly
- longest time horizon
Q: How long-term is this plan?
Seattle Parks estimated 5 to 10 years during the meeting. Personally, I have heard that Magnuson Park’s Tennis Center Sandpoint was 10 years in the making and that things have only gotten more complicated since then. Therefore, I think that 5 to 10 years is quite an optimistic estimate.
Q: What did people think of the plan?
A little over a third of the participants were more excited about the long-term plan, about a third preferred the short-term plan, and a little less than a third preferred the mid-term solution.
When asked “how do you think Seattle Parks can grow pickleball while balancing the needs of tennis?” the most frequent answer was “dedicated courts”.
When asked “who are the important community partners Seattle Parks should work with to achieve balance?” the most frequent answer was “SMPA”
When asked “Should Seattle Parks invest resources to dual strip more courts OR provide nets and pickleball play equipment?” participants overwhelmingly chose “invest resources to dual strip more courts”. Nets are important, but lines come first.
The meeting concluded with a Q&A session. Here are most if not all of them.
Q: Are you planning to add pickleball court lines to tennis courts with lights?
A: It’s something we could look into. Not something we are doing right now. Good idea.
Q: What do you mean by immediate, medium term, long term?
- Immediate: this summer,
- Medium term: dual striping 2-3 years
- Long-term: dedicated: 5-10 years.
Q: Are you planning for indoor dedicated courts?
A: No. But we are considering outdoor covered dedicated pickleball courts in the long-term.
Q: Is anything done to mitigate pickleball noise?
A: No. Seattle Parks will consider proximity to residences when selecting tennis courts to be lined for pickleball. There are a lot of park activities that cause noise. You can’t choose to live near a park and then complain about park noise.
Q: Is there a publicly available tennis resurfacing schedule?
A: No. Right now, Seattle parks can only resurface 2 to 3 sites per year at most for budgetary reasons. Hopefully, they will get more money for court resurfacing in the new (Seattle Parks District?) budget, and then they’ll come up with a resurfacing schedule that they will make public.
Q: How about converting basketball courts to pickleball?
A: We do not have as many basketball courts as tennis courts, they don’t have fencing and they are small.
Q: Any consideration of the fact that pickleball players use less square footage than tennis?
A: It’s an advantage of pickleball but not a reason for converting tennis courts to pickleball. Same as not converting soccer fields to ultimate frisbee fields.
Q: Would raising money for dedicated pickleball courts accelerate the timeline?
A: Only up to a point.
Q: Why 2 pickleball courts to 1 tennis court ratio instead of more pickleball density?
A: Three reasons:
- Far easier for players to see the lines.
- Make sure that tennis and pickleball players are not running into each other.
- Make sure it works with reservation system.
Q: Why is the current reservation system such a challenge?
A: “I don’t know. I need to study this myself.”
Q: Did the city study demand for each sport?
A: We looked at data from the court reservation system. We might do spot counts of people playing during summer. Will hear from people doing maintenance work or working at community center.
Q: Can we get yellow pickleball lines?
A: Yellow is too close to white. It would be confusing for both sports.
Q: Who paid for Amy Yee Tennis Center and Magnuson’s Tennis Center Sandpoint?
A: Amy Yee Tennis Center is built, owned and operated by Seattle Parks. Tennis Center Sandpoint is owned by Seattle Parks but was renovated and is run by a 3rd party.
Q: Could we get dedicated time for each sport?
A: Seattle Parks is discussing this internally.
Q: How about adding pickleball lines to Tennis Center Sandpoint and the Amy Yee Tennis Center courts?
A: Tennis Center Sandpoint: it would be up to them. Amy Yee Tennis Center: not enough space for tennis; maybe if they can expand.
Q: Lack of pickleball representation on Advisory Committee.
A: Almost all members of the advisory committee play pickleball. When writing the 2019 pickleball pilot report, Seattle Parks didn’t reach out enough to the tennis community. Seattle Parks wanted to explicitly reach out to the tennis community this time around.