Chris Howell


The Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission got the news it was waiting for Tuesday night when the Searcy City Council approved up to $366,000 to completely redo the Berryhill Park tennis courts, including adding pickleball courts.

The amount is 25 percent of the estimated $1.344 million cost. City Clerk/Treasurer Jerry Morris said the money would come from the city’s fund for the eight-year, 1-cent sales tax, which was permanently continued in a special election Nov. 9. He said if the money were to come from the general fund it would be a large commitment.

The A&P Commission voted in December to fund up to $1.1 million, or 75 percent, of the project.

Searcy City Council member and A&P Commission Chairman Chris Howell said area engineer Bear Davidson “graciously committed his time and efforts into this project and has vetted what he thinks it’s going to cost. We feel pretty good about the cost.”

Before the vote was taken, Howell explained the anticipated amount needed.

The way the A&P Commission “crafted their proposal,” Howell said, was that 75 percent of the estimated project cost was a little over a million dollars and the commission was willing to go up to $1.1 million, a 9 percent increase over the anticipated cost, in order to not have to readdress the cost. “If the city decided to fill the gap of 25 percent, the city would be agreeing to $360,000,” but the contingency of 9 percent in additional costs puts the possible total amount at $366,000.

City Attorney Buck Gibson said the initial process for starting the project would be the commitment from the city but there are a lot of other things that need to be done before “turning spades of dirt.”

All members present voted yes on the motion to finance 25 percent of the project made by Councilman Don Raney. Council members Tonia Hale and Dale Brewer were absent.

Councilman David Morris asked if restrooms were included and Howell said “yes” they are included in the preliminary plan.

At its December meeting the A&P Commission made its funding commitment to redo the Berryhill Park courts, including converting two into pickleball courts. Mayor Kyle Osborne previously has said the tennis courts there are estimated to be about 40 years old.

Gibson said the city won’t know what the construction cost is until the project goes out for bid.

This project would include eight pickleball courts and six tennis courts, with the 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.

A rather large turnout of pickleball supporters attended the A&P meeting last month, including Harding University tennis coach David Redding, a national championship pickleball player. Redding said, “There has been a lot of hard work and work going on behind the scene from many people here in Searcy, and as you can see today [meeting day in December] with the turnout that we had, we’re very excited.”

Commissioner Tommy Centola remarked that the group of about 15 supporters was one of the largest groups the commission ever had at one of their meetings.

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 the project is approved and moving forward. We will have no problem, I believe, filling up those courts as they get built.”

Another thing Redding told The Daily Citizen is that “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.”

There has been lots of talks in previous meetings about the importance of tournaments to get visitors to come to Searcy and spend money at stores, restaurants and hotels. “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 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 in promoted.”

Asked about the preliminary plans for the redo of the Berryhill Park tennis facility, Redding said, “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.”

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