The Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission served up to $1.1 million Tuesday to redo the Berryhill Park tennis courts, including converting two into pickleball courts.

The commission approved funding 75 percent, or up to $1.1 million, of the $1.34 million estimated cost, with Chairman Chris Howell stressing that the multisports project covers both tennis and pickleball.

“An aspect of this that was kind of lost is the improvements we will be doing to the tennis courts as well,” Howell said.

In the preliminary report on the project, Howell said he thinks the costs are “hammered down very well” and the city will manage the construction of the project. Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne said the council would have to agree to fund the remaining balance. “Will that be in the January agenda?” Osborne said. “Probably, because we need to get the ball rolling on this.”

Commissioner Gary Patel mentioned going after possible grants from the U.S. Tennis Association to help fund the project. Howell agreed, but said, “I don’t think we go into the project expecting that. I think we fully fund the project and any grants we can get will be gravy. That brings our cost down.”

He mentioned inflation is at a 30-year high and said, “If we are going to move on this [project], we need to move on it. Doing it on this cost allocation basis, a percentage basis, it doesn’t lock us into a dollar amount, so at the end of the project, we’ve given our share and the city has given their share, now who is going to fill the gap?”

Gibson said the city won’t know what the construction cost is until the project goes out for bid. “This isn’t a bid,” he said. “This is just a construction budget.”

Howell said the city feels “pretty good” about the budget because it “was vetted through a construction company ... but once again as Buck said, this is not a quote so to speak, but this is a pretty good idea of what it’s going to cost.”

The project would include eight pickleball courts and six tennis courts, with an extra one added during the teardown and rebuild. There are currently seven tennis courts at the park, but they “are in disarray,” Howell said, with large and long cracks making them unplayable.

Noting a larger-than-usual turnout for the commission meeting, Harding University tennis coach David Redding, a national championship pickleball player, said, “There has been a lot of hard work and work going on behind the scenes from many people here in Searcy, and as you can see today with the turnout that we had, we’re very excited.”

Commissioner Tommy Centola said, “This is probably one of the largest groups we’ve ever had here. It shows that there a lot of interest in this sport.”

Redding said there are probably 60 Searcy residents who are really into pickleball. “And you will see more coming out of the woodworks once they know this project is approved and moving forward. We will have no problem, I believe, filling up those courts as they get built.”

Commissioner Rees Jones asked about tournaments and who would be responsible for securing them. Howell said Searcy Parks and Recreation Director Mike Parsons assured him that he would take charge of bringing in tournaments.

“There are some things on the table right now as far as technology out there that you can automate management,” Howell said. “He would be the manager but a lot of it would be automated. I know he has contacted Conway and there are some other cities that he has contacted. I don’t think it’s rocket science. I don’t think were reinventing the wheel here. I think it’s a matter of having someone take ownership of it and us giving him the resources to do what he needs to do.”

City Attorney Buck Gibson said he was excited “to hear that there is maybe an automated management system with an app on your phone to reserve court times and things like that.”

Howell said that “actually as soon as this [the tennis court/pickleball story] hit the paper last month, we got contacted by a group I believe out of New York that does that. Mike [Parsons] is looking to see if that’s a good fit for our particular situation.”

Redding said “passionate and capable” pickleball players in Searcy “are already looking at forming a pickleball association. There are many all around the country that have bylaws so that will not be a problem.”

“As far as bringing in tournaments, it’s not where we would go out and look for tournaments somewhere else and ask them to come here, it’s a matter of us, the city or an association, stating we want to have a tournament on this weekend and publishing that on the pickleball association website,” Redding said. “There are tournaments all over the place and people want to go and travel and play, and people from Searcy are going not only all over Arkansas but all over the Southwest, all over the country playing in tournaments.

“... It’s just a matter of once we have a fine facility here, top-notch, people will come here to Searcy and it’s a matter of how few or how many tournaments the city wants to hold for us to put something on the calendar and get it promoted.”

Asked if he had reviewed the plans for the Berryhill Park courts, Redding said that he had. “On the outdoor tournaments here in Arkansas, this will be one of the top facilities with eight dedicated pickleball courts, and then on the tennis courts you can actually line ... they’re temporary courts which, what are we talking six courts, you would have a 20-court pickleball facility, eight being dedicated and 12 being temporary courts for a tournament which is a great number to host a very good weekend tournament.”

He said his preference from having gone around to different courts would be to go ahead and have painted lines for pickleball on the tennis courts, “like you would have quick start lines on tennis courts, because there is a time element of taping courts.”

He added that it could be done either way, though. “Some places that don’t want here to be blended lines on the tennis courts will go out and tape the courts, and so if we were going to be having a tournament, you just go out the day before and tape those courts. It’s just a matter of time getting that done and then taking the tape up after the tournament and you got the tennis court, so there is different way to do that.”

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