Sep 5, 2023 - Sports

How much Mecklenburg County is investing in pickleball

Pearl Street Park opened in 2021 with pickleball and basketball courts. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Pearl Street Park opened in 2021 with pickleball and basketball courts. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Mecklenburg County is working to keep up with the surging demand for pickleball courts.

State of play: The county, which installed its first outdoor court in the summer of 2019, currently owns/operates 49 pickleball courts and plans to add up to 55 more courts as part of its five-year Capital Improvement Plan, which was approved in June.

  • Parks and Rec was allotted $448 million from the CIP for projects like its greenway system, a new park at Eastland Yards, improving older facilities, dredging lakes and adding new amenities like pickleball courts.
  • “Pickleball is specifically listed in CIP funding due to the low amenity total, as well as outdoor water amenities [like splash pads], dog parks and skateparks,” the county told Axios in a statement.

Why it matters: Keeping up with the demand for pickleball courts isn’t just a Charlotte issue, it’s a national one, as Axios‘ Jennifer A. Kingson and Alice Feng report

Between the lines: The skyrocketing popularity of the sport has resulted in hot new privately operated spots like Rally opening up in Charlotte.

By the numbers: Charlotte has 5.1 pickleball courts per capita, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a pro-parks nonprofit. Nationally, it will take $902 million to build 25,784 courts to meet current and future demand for the sport, per a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and Pickleheads, a digital platform. 

Zoom in: Constructing a purpose-built pickleball court (which isn’t converted from another type of court) costs between $20,000-$25,000. A remodeled court averages between $7,500-$10,000, per the county.

  • Creating a hybrid court is typically as simple as painting additional lines to a tennis court, but residents prefer dedicated courts versus sharing, the county says. 
  • Pearl Street and Clark Creek parks are the only two parks with purpose-built courts. They account for 10 of the county’s courts, indicating they cost between $200,000-$250,000 to build.

Yes, but: It’s unclear exactly how much the county has spent on pickleball courts. The county wouldn’t share that figure.

  • The county also wouldn’t say how many of the 55 courts it plans to add will be new, purpose-built courts, and how many will be converted ones.
  • The new courts will be in existing parks with amenities like bathrooms and parking, the county says.

The intrigue: A basketball court at Sheffield Park in east Charlotte was recently converted into three pickleball courts, and some residents weren’t happy about it. Resident Matt Walsh emailed Mecklenburg County Commissioner Mark Jerrell, calling the transition “one of the ‘craziest and most tone-deaf’ things he’d seen,'” as WFAE’s Nick de la Canal reported.

  • “We look at distribution of the amenity throughout the county, alongside what existing facilities could house amenities where there are gaps to fill,” the county told Axios via email when asked about how they determine where to place pickleball courts. “When Sheffield Park was looked at, we had zero outdoor, dedicated pickleball courts into the eastern area of the county.”

Of note: The county’s other converted courts in Freedom, Enderly, MLK and Huntingtowne parks were all previously tennis courts. The county has 19 converted courts, which cost around $142,500-$190,000 total.

Between the lines: The county doesn’t currently have plans to build indoor pickleball courts, but several recreation centers do offer indoor pickleball leagues in their gymnasiums, which are often free or low-cost.

  • You can reserve a court for $5 per hour on the county’s website, but reservations are not required for any court, the county says. Its reservation system does not list every court, as some courts are always open play.
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