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Group eyes pickleball facility at Northwood Park

Thunder Bay Pickleball Club has proposed eight pickleball courts, with later plans to expand and add a clubhouse

THUNDER BAY — With the popularity of pickleball on the rise, a local group is looking to give the game a home base in Northwood.

The Thunder Bay Pickleball Club has asked the city to partner to explore the feasibility of a pickleball facility at the Northwood Playfield off of James Street.

Presenting to city council on Monday, the group sketched a phased vision starting with eight pickleball courts, with plans to later add a clubhouse, expand to 12 courts, and finally cover the courts for all-season play.

Club leaders argued a scarcity of indoor and outdoor venues is hindering the growth of the sport, which combines aspects of tennis, badminton, and ping pong on a surface roughly half the size of a tennis court.

While they welcomed newly-introduced courts at Boulevard Lake and elsewhere, club president Tudor Nisioiu and vice-president Kasper Wabinski said the fact existing courts are clustered in groups of one or two around the city makes it challenging to host clinics, classes, and events like tournaments.

“Other cities across North America have succeeded by centralizing pickleball courts in a single location, instead of scattering them across various parks and spaces,” the group wrote in a memo to council.

Coun. Kasey Etreni noted the city’s website lists 14 existing pickleball courts across the city.

However, Nisioiu responded most of those are tennis courts that require players to bring portable nets and are not ideally suited to pickleball.

A planned tennis bubble at Chapples Park will include a flexible oversized court that can be converted into four pickleball courts, but those will be available only for daytime use, Wabinski told council.

The club is committed to raising funds for the project, he added, suggesting they might apply to the city’s community partnership fund, designed to leverage provincial and federal dollars, but would take primary responsibility for costs.

Centralizing a larger number of courts would also set up the city to potentially host pickleball tournaments, Wabinski said, estimating those could bring hundreds of people to the city.

The club currently provides play opportunities at three indoor locations (the Moose Hall, Boys and Girls Club, and a local high school) and one outdoor location, but none are dedicated to pickleball, leaving availability only in off-hours, they said.

The club also says its membership has grown rapidly since its founding in 2021, currently numbering around 240. They say that exceeds the currently available spaces.

The city opened its first dedicated pickleball courts in 2021, adding four at Boulevard Lake in recognition of the sport’s growing popularity.

Parks staff told council they had been contemplating opportunities for a similar set-up in the city’s south end, before being approached by the pickleball club with a vision for a central location.

Coun. Shelby Ch’ng questioned if building a pickleball-only facility is the best approach, noting the city’s 2017 recreation and facilities master plan encourages multi-purpose hubs.

“We decided at that time to actually get away from standalone facilities,” she said, suggesting it may be time for the city to take another look at the plan.

Community services GM Kelly Robertson suggested two “recreation hubs” envisioned in the plan, at Chapples Park and the Canada Games Complex, could be considered for pickleball courts in the future.

Coun. Andrew Foulds moved a successful motion to refer the club’s request to administration for further study.

“We’ve talked about pickleball now for almost an hour. I think we need more answers,” he said. “We have a group that has come forward willing to form a partnership … the data looks good. But I think Coun. Ch’ng brings up a good point — we have to see how this fits within our recreational master plan, for sure, and some work has to be done before we make any decisions.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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