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Some residents unhappy to lose downtown tennis courts to pickleball

'More (tennis courts) were added at Shining Hill, but that’s practically in Aurora, and so there’s nothing left in downtown Newmarket,' says Kathy Toth of town's plan to replace Lions Park tennis courts with a new pickleball facility
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Newmarket resident Kathy Toth can remember learning to play tennis at Lions Park.

Taught by Keith Davis, Toth said he would instruct local kids at the longstanding tennis courts every weekend. It was a wonderful community gathering area, she said.

But the now senior voices the concern of some others in the community, particularly downtown residents, who are unhappy to learn those tennis courts are being removed to make way for pickleball.

“They’ve been there forever,” Toth said, adding that “the town should never destroy something.”

The town’s many pickleball players are set to get a new facility at the Lions Park tennis courts. Town committee of the whole voted to advance the proposal this week to meet the high demand for the burgeoning sport. But it has garnered concerns from the change, with Toth and some other residents bemoaning the loss of tennis in the downtown core, with the tennis club facility also being moved to be replaced by parking.

Tennis players will soon have their own new facility in the Shining Hill area, paid for with developer dollars as part of an agreement with the town. Those same dollars will also contribute to a new pickleball facility, to make up for the new tennis facility having two fewer courts than contracted due to space limitations. 

“Shining Hill Developments has indicated that they will provide the remaining two courts at a location of the town’s choosing,” a staff report said. “It is believed that conversion of this existing space and addition of a grade beam to facilitate a bubble in future could be done more economically than construction of two new tennis courts in an undeveloped location.”

But Toth does not see it that way. She said rather than taking tennis courts away, the town should have looked to build pickleball courts at a new location.

“That new money should have gone to something new,” she said. “Downtown Newmarket has lost 12 tennis courts.” 

Although the new facility is coming, Toth said it is an issue with its location being at the south end of town. 

“More were added at Shining Hill, but that’s practically in Aurora, and so there’s nothing left in downtown Newmarket.”

Pickleball on the rise

A new facility is needed to meet the demand for pickleball, Debra Scott, president of the newly formed Newmarket Pickleball Club, told council.

After a public information session on pickleball Jan. 31, she said a club came together out of following conversations. Now, the town has indicated that the club will be able to run the new facility, which is more than 140 members strong.

“We’re quite excited,” she said of the new location. “It was not something we expected.” 

Scott is a multi-sport lover and said she has played tennis at the Lions Park courts, as well. But she said it had become a sub-standard facility for playing the sport and needed a redo.

However, she added that she understands the sting of losing tennis space there. 

“Anytime you lose any type of outdoor thing that you’re used to doing, no matter what it is, naturally we all don’t want to see that happen,” she said.

But, as with tennis, the location makes it a strong location for a pickleball facility, she said. Further, she added that the potential cost savings are noteworthy with the municipality facing financial strains.

“It’s a perfect location for a pickleball facility,” she said.

Such a facility is needed, with spaces for pickleball getting completely booked up in Newmarket, she added.

Another concern has come with the town floating the idea of erecting a sports dome over the new pickleball facility in the future during the winter, which would mean the end of the community hockey rink there. Mayor John Taylor has assured the public that this will not happen in the near future and could only come about after more public consultation.

But down the road, if the municipality finds their indoor options cannot meet the demands of pickleball and it opts to go with a sports bubble, Scott said she has confidence an alternative for the rink could be found.

“I have full confidence the municipality between now, and whenever that is, five, 10 years from now, the municipality would have come to a wonderful solution,” she said.

The town plans to initiate resurfacing on several courts in town, with Art Ferguson Park on Bayview Avenue to be lined exclusively for tennis. But just as the Lions Park courts will be redone for pickleball, Toth said that could have occurred for tennis.

It makes sense that pickleball players like the location, Toth said, with its downtown proximity and location next to a changing facility and a pool. 

“It’s great for the pickleball people, but it’s also great for the tennis people. So why bump out the tennis people?”