On April 3, 2023, the Destin City Council voted in favor of providing $400,000 to the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation (ECFF) to construct pickleball courts for public use at the Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center, formerly the Destin Family YMCA. The facility is located at 4345 Commons Drive West.
- Kathi Heapy from the Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation presented the proposal to the council, highlighting the growing popularity of pickleball and the benefits of the new courts to the local community.
According to Heapy, pickleball is quickly becoming one of America’s most popular sports, with professional leagues and numerous successful regional tournaments and fundraisers. The sport is popular among active senior citizens, middle-aged and young people, and provides a healthful, wholesome activity.
- Heapy noted that school P.E. programs are incorporating pickleball into their curriculum, and she believes varsity sports teams will soon follow.
Hippi told the council that there are a few pickleball courts scattered throughout the community, but their use is often limited due to the small number of courts, restrictions on non-residents or non-pass-holders, and lack of available restroom facilities. Heavy usage and lack of supervision are also issues for the existing facilities.
This isn’t the first time the council has heard requests from residents for more pickleball courts. Individuals have been requesting the City of Destin to include pickleball courts in its recreational sports offering since at least September 2018.
In response to these requests, the FY 2021 Budget included $30,000 for pickleball courts, which was insufficient to construct more than one court. The FY 2022 Budget allocated $400,000 for pickleball courts, but with no clear plans for their construction.
The Emerald Coast Fitness Foundation proposed utilizing the Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center to construct up to 10 pickleball courts. According to the proposal, Destin Parks & Rec staff obtained an all-inclusive cost estimate on a prepared site of $75,000 per court. $400,000 would build 4-5 courts at that price depending upon engineering and site work costs
- ECFF says they are working to obtain pricing estimates from local suppliers, which they feel will allow them to construct more than 5 courts for the $400,000.
The available space at the Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center would accommodate the new courts, adjacent to existing ample bathroom and locker room facilities, according to Heapy. She says the ECFF would manage court usage, providing supervision, lighting, maintenance, and security.
- Heapy’s proposal asked the City of Destin to provide the $400,000 it currently has budgeted for pickleball courts and commit to an annual support stipend to the ECFF, with 50% allocated to a reserve fund for court repairs, maintenance, and upgrades.
The ECFF aims to offer affordable pickleball participation fees, welcoming guests and snowbirds, and partnering with hotels and condos to offer playing opportunities to their guests. Other areas of the proposal included providing pickleball lessons, organizing teams and leagues, and hosting tournaments that would attract participants from throughout the region and support tourism.
Heapy explained that the proceeds from all fees and rentals paid for participation would go to the ECFF, which will also assume costs related to the operation of the courts. This includes hiring additional staff, providing electricity for lighting, maintaining the courts, and covering additional expenses related to restroom and locker room usage.
Heapy says the the proposed pickleball courts at the Taj Renee Community Aquatic Center are a “win-win” for the City of Destin and the ECFF. With the City providing the necessary funds and the ECFF offering land, locker rooms, operational support, and safety staff, she says the community stands to benefit across age, gender, racial, socioeconomic, and residency categories.
- She says the facility will also improve Destin’s attractiveness as a vacation, sports tourism, and residential destination, while supporting the ECFF’s mission and Mattie Kelly’s intended usage of the property for community recreation and fitness opportunities.