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Newmarket tennis club protests move to build downtown parking structure

Club members petitioning against plan as their new facility is not yet ready; but mayor, business owners say need for parking downtown takes precedence
File photo

Newmarket tennis players are protesting the town's plan to construct a much needed downtown parking structure this year that would temporarily displace them.

Municipal staff are proposing an RFP be issued for the design and build of a modular structure that could bring more than 200 parking spaces downtown in the current location of the tennis courts.

The tennis club will be relocating to a new facility in the Shining Hill subdivision, but because it will not be ready for the start of the parking construction, the town is aiming to find alternative accommodation for players this season. Council will review the proposal Feb. 6.

Mayor John Taylor said it is an exciting development for which people have been asking for a long time.

“This is a very significant improvement, and we think it’s going to be a major support to the success of the businesses in the downtown, but also to the downtown as a cultural event space,” he said. 

The town has planned to convert the downtown tennis facility into parking for some time, particularly with the influx of traffic expected to come when the Postmark Hotel opens on Main Street. While it initially planned to have a new tennis facility ready before construction began, construction on the new tennis facility in the Shining Hill area was delayed due to concerns about soil conditions.

Taylor said construction is now active for the new facility, and they were hoping to avoid a situation where the tennis club lacks a home. Despite that, he said going ahead with parking construction soon was a matter of setting priorities.

“While we know there’s a large number of passionate tennis players who will be somewhat inconvenienced, the other group that will be significantly impacted is 100-plus small businesses who rely on their business success for their livelihood,” Taylor said. “Our opinion, as a town, that has to take precedent.”

But Taylor added that the town will do everything to help the club in a “dispersed model,” securing court time at facilities throughout Newmarket. 

“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure as close to a normal season as possible.”

Tennis club members unhappy

But many Newmarket tennis club members are protesting the move.

A petition has emerged on calling for the current facility to remain open through summer 2024. Started on Jan. 31, more than 170 people signed on the same day. 

"Let's preserve this vital part of our community's fabric -— not pave it over," the petition said. 

Garry Brisbois signed the petition and said moving to other courts in town would not work for the club. He noted that many of them have pickleball lines, which poses an issue for local tournaments. He said members are upset, especially given the town initially intended to have a new facility ready by the time the old one was torn down.

“Saying we can use all the other tennis courts in town, that is not a club. That’s just a fiasco,” he said.

BIA welcomes news 

Newmarket BIA Chair Tom Hempen said he is pleased to see the parking advancing, with people asking him constantly about it.

“It’s an important part of our downtown. We need this parking infrastructure in place,” Hempen said. “We're grateful to the town for going ahead and looking at this, and I’m excited to see work will begin.” 

Allan Cockburn, another BIA member, said it is a long time coming and it is unfortunate how long it has taken.

He said he supports the town's decision to move forward with the plan, despite the impact on the tennis club.

"No disrespect to the tennis players, I just think there's more to gain from relocating some tennis players to get this job done than there is waiting for the tennis courts to be built," he said. 

The town’s 2023 budget for demolition, design and construction of the new parking is $2.15 million. A more exact cost for the project this year remains to be determined through procurement.

The town plans to have a ground-plus-one-level structure that could expand to more levels in the future. The staff report said the modular structure could be built in difficult weather conditions without any interruptions or delays, with prefabricated modular elements transported to the site and mounted atop each other.

“This results in a much shorter time to construct than if it were a traditional poured-in-place structure,” the staff report said. “Very little lead time is needed to begin the project after the tender is awarded.”

It is a very forward way to construct this, downtown Councillor Bob Kwapis said.

“A modular parking model can be adjusted as needed very quickly. We feel we are going to address the parking issue now, but we don’t know what’s going to happen a few years down the road,” he said. “(It's) a very exciting, flexible model that is perfect for the downtown today and tomorrow.” 

In 2021, the ground underneath the tennis facility came into question, as a chemical leaked into the clubhouse. The municipality tested the soil, and although a precise source was not found at the time, it was figured to stem from previous industrial uses on the property.

Taylor said it should not pose any issue to the construction of the new facility, with parking being a less sensitive use than tennis.

The staff report floated the possibility of paid parking getting implemented in locations downtown, with staff requesting that a consultant be hired to do a business case analysis for paid parking in the community.

That could mean paid parking in locations beyond the downtown, Taylor said. But he added that there would be plenty of time for public consultation before any paid parking is added. 

“The process is really just putting the idea out there and being very transparent about it. We’re going to garner this information and try to understand this option better” he said.

After years of concern around downtown parking, ward Councillor Bob Kwapis said a parking problem is a good problem to have.

“That means the prosperity of the businesses are there. What we need to do is, we need to accommodate,” Kwapis said.

“We are fortunate to have an award-winning downtown,” Taylor said. “A flexible, modular system adding over 200 new spaces is going to be another huge step forward.”