Developers love Pickleball

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Vandalism, allegations of torture, and pressure campaigns are just a few of the persistent tactics enthusiasts have encountered in their search for a decent spot to play their favorite sport: pickleball.

Pickleball, a combination of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, was invented in 1965 as an easy-to-play pastime. After years of quiet popularity, it surged in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, with supporters now citing it as one of the fastest-growing games in the United States. Sponsors and television networks are showing interest in the sport, as are celebrities such as Jamie Foxx, Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres.

Pickleball has divided some communities over noise complaints and turf wars, but not all experiences resemble plots fit for a mafia trial. Some cities embrace the sport. Recently, Redondo Beach, California, has budgeted $65,000 for new courses and a feasibility study into possibly adding more courses. Lincoln, Neb. has already spent $200,000 on new courts and is creating a master plan for continued expansion.

However, without committed community interest, many cities find it harder to find acceptable places to play, and private developers are seizing the opportunity.

But investors are divided on whether standalone Pickleball investments can become successful companies. The lack of consensus has resulted in different concepts designed to attract a wider audience, from establishments with artisanal kitchens and karaoke rooms to spaces in former warehouses accented with nightclub decor.

“Doing a project the traditional way is uninteresting to me,” said Peter Remes, who founded Lucky Shots in Minneapolis. Mr. Remes, who has launched several art projects in the Twin Cities, added that he modeled his Pickleball building on a “1950s country club” dotted with a pink and green motif that combines “vintage style with a… contemporary edge” combo.

Lucky Shots opened in October on a 40,000 square foot site that was once home to the Foley Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of kitchen tools. The Minneapolis Cider Company installed four indoor courts. Life Time, which operates a national chain of fitness clubs, opened its first pickleball facility in one of its former gyms in Bloomington, south of Minneapolis.

“I’ve been in the health and fitness business for almost 40 years and have never experienced organic growth like this,” said Jeff Zwiefel, Life Time’s chief operating officer.

Smash Park is planning two Pickleball locations in the Twin Cities. To differentiate itself from the competition, Smash Park relies heavily on additional forms of entertainment to attract customers. In addition to pickleball, facilities include ax throwing, karaoke, and private event space for up to 500 people. They also offer weekly events like quiz nights, Sunday brunch bingo, and mystery parties.

“Pickleball is awesome but pretty low profit per square foot,” said Monty Lockyear, general manager of Smash Park.

Since only two or four players can be active on a court at a time, a pickleball-only venue “may not have enough clientele to keep it afloat, even with multiple courts,” said Ronald Naples, associate professor at New York University Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality.

Food and beverages are another way Pickleball establishments try to attract regular users.

The Pickle Bar in Summerville, SC will span more than 40,000 square feet and have nine outdoor seating areas with space for garden games like cornhole, but the focus will be on a bar and restaurant that offers Southern cuisine, said Alisa Tolliver, a Co -Founder.

In the Southwest, Eureka Restaurant Group is opening Electric Pickle locations influenced by the “eatertainment” model popularized by franchises such as Topgolf and Chicken N Pickle, where food and beverage complement a variety of recreational activities.

Electric Pickle will offer items like handcrafted cocktails and Korean protein bowls in a setting with a speakeasy, rustic vibe, said Paul Frederick, a co-founder of Eureka, adding that the dining experience “has to be the main attraction.”

“If I have nine seats and the capacity is four per seat but the project capacity is 600 people, we have to give them great food and a great scene,” he said. “We call it hitting all the senses.”

Eatertainment is particularly appealing now because customer preferences have changed during the pandemic and families are seeking large gathering spaces for leisure, said Seunghyun Park, assistant professor of hospitality management at St. John’s University.

However, eatertainment facilities may not be the most attractive places for dedicated gamers. Pickleball’s demographic leans heavily toward retirees, and players have earned a reputation for being a prickly, territorial bunch.

Much like tennis, the sport can also seem exclusionary — some racquets cost upwards of $200. New York City is trying to meet demand for more space but will not renovate high-use recreational spaces like basketball or handball courts, said Margaret Nelson, deputy commissioner for city park services and public programs at the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

“We’re always trying to keep our balance,” she said. “People want to do a lot and we only have limited space.”

Some locations, like Rally in Charlotte, NC, are hoping to challenge the belief that Pickleball alone can’t anchor a business. Although Rally will include a food and beverage component, additional entertainment options are not on the menu.

“The term eattainment makes me cringe,” said Barrett Worthington, co-founder of Rally. “So many breweries and concepts throw so many activities together, but we want to have a little more focused approach.”

With or without dining and entertainment perks, finding affordable space is a universal concern among start-up pickleball facilities.

The first Electric Pickle sites will be built from the ground up, but Mr Frederick said he is exploring repurposed buildings for future sites because of rising supply chain costs and lengthy land claim processes.

Repurposed spaces that used to house large department stores or department stores are a popular choice. Volli, a Washington-based franchise, is planning its first Texas location in a 62,000-square-foot former Hobby lobby. (The first two Volli locations were built in over 20,000 square feet of furniture warehouses.)

Allan Jones, the founder and CEO of Volli, previously built family adventure parks in abandoned grocery stores. Building an entertainment complex in a repurposed space is likely to go twice as fast as building from scratch because necessary things like parking lots and water and sewage systems are already in place, he said.

Repurposing a big box store can also present challenges. For example, low ceilings are not conducive to lob shots. Too many pillars can interfere with pitch space, which is ideally 30 feet by 60 feet.

Picklr co-founder Jorge Barragan opened a location in Logan, Utah that once housed a Bed Bath & Beyond, and encountered other hurdles.

He said there were high costs to remove false ceilings and nearly 25,000 square feet of asbestos-covered floors. Some landlords would not approve a lease at other potential locations because they are unfamiliar with Pickleball.

Since pickleball is still largely considered a niche sport, some sell the idea of ​​a pickleball facility by not even thinking about it.

Inside Lucky Shots in Minneapolis, installations of large emoticons or phrases like “Sup?” exude a Pop Art feel. Since opening last fall, the club has attracted 9,000 members, many of whom have been charmed by the atmosphere, Mr Remes said.

“What I do has nothing to do with Pickleball,” he said. “It’s the immersion in art and culture that creates a space in a physiological way that you feel something when you enter it.”

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