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Pickleball plea: Convert unused tennis courts in Boca

With public pickleball courts at a premium here, Boca’s official ambassador asked to refurbish tennis courts for more of the sport’s enthusiasts.

“The city should become proactive and create dedicated, lighted pickleball courts. The four courts at El Rio are not enough,” Raul Travieso said Monday. As the USA Pickleball Association’s Florida Southeast District ambassador, Travieso has championed courts before city council.

In this case he appealed to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, urging commissioners to refurbish abandoned tennis courts in Boca Teeca. He also asked for a two-court conversion in the district’s Patch Reef Park or Swim & Racquet Center. “That would be an economical and quick solution,” he said. “Nationally, there are a multitude of successful tennis/pickleball centers.”

The dearth of pickleball courts happened after the pandemic shut down the air-conditioned fieldhouse used by avid players in the district’s Sugar Sand Park. That only left the city’s newest park, Hillsboro El Rio phase 2 on the south side of 18th Street. Now those outdoor courts have a de facto waiting list.

The planned but not built second phase of Countess de Hoernle Park/Spanish River Athletic would be “the ideal venue to build a lighted pickleball complex,” Travieso said.

The county has budgeted six new courts at west Boca’s South County Regional Park. And two underused tennis courts each were converted to six pickleball courts at John Prince, Lake Lytal and Okeeheelee parks, he told commissioners. “Repurposing these courts at each park was $50,000,” but the work could be done for less, he said.

“I don’t think we need to spend all that money. There are already 200 amps coming in,” for lighting, said Anthony Ciliberti, president of Condo 4 in Boca Teeca. “Pickleball courts don’t need real high fences like tennis courts. I believe if there is a conversion, pickleball would be most useful amenity for the area.”

District commissioners took requests for Patch Reef Park and Swim & Racquet under advisement. But Travieso got some pushback about the Boca Teeca location near the planned new public golf course. “I’m wondering if something like pickleball would be practical unless we can keep it as a permanent feature of the golf course,” said Commissioner Steve Engel. “Would it impede playability or accessibility to the course?”

“We could talk about why that wasn’t part of the design and how that would impact the holes,” executive director Briann Harms said about the site design by Price Fazio.  The city hasn’t signed off on the initial design, but Harms said she’s speaking to a staffer this week and would report back to the district on progress.

By Marci Shatzman

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