Monday, November 28, 2022

Pickleball park planned for College Road

If rezoning is approved by the county commissioners, the social venue will include 23 courts, restaurant and bar

An indoor/outdoor pickleball park and venue is slated for 8 acres on N. College Road, pending a rezoning request from the county. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — Merrette Moore has a vision to create a pickleball oasis – dozens of courts, food, drinks and a family-friendly place to socialize.

A fan and player of pickleball, Moore has his eye on 8 acres of property at 5000 N. College Rd. for construction of a pickleball park.

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“The popularity of pickleball is growing in Wilmington, everyone would agree,” Moore said. “The demand for courts way exceeds the supply of courts.”

In the county there are only six publicly accessible pickleball courts and roughly 500 members of the Cape Fear Pickleball Club, the president told Port City Daily last month. Holly Manning estimated the player base regionally to be around 1,500.

“The pickleball community here is fairly tight-knit,” Moore explained. “There are a lot of folks who know I was thinking about doing this, and by and large people are excited.”

Managing partner of Tidewater Investment Company, Moore has been percolating his idea for the last 18 months after traveling the country playing the racket sport. He’s visited a number of facilities.

“We want to build the best facility in the country,” he said. “And we’re crazy enough to believe we can do that.”

Initially, Moore plans to build 23 courts, similar to tennis courts, and nine of those will be covered. He intends to open a fast-casual restaurant on site, as well as an indoor/outdoor bar and an area for kids to play, for a true “park effect.”

“Pickleball is a very social sport,” he said. “People like to hang out during and afterwards. I want to create a place where people can not only play but also socialize, have a safe place for kids to be and generally have an open, welcoming venue for people to watch and play pickleball, relax and do other things.”

Pricing options to utilize the courts will vary, including membership and single-use payments.

“We want to have pricing that caters to the curious or novice player to see what it’s all about but are not ready to commit,” Moore said.

He took inspiration for the park from Northern Regional Park in Castle Hayne. When he found the parcel of land on College Road, between Sidbury and Holly Shelter roads, it checked all the boxes.

The property, owned by Catherine and John Burney since May 1989, is currently undeveloped and is zoned for residential use. Moore is requesting a conditional rezoning request from New Hanover County. According to his rezoning application, zoning districts that would allow for an indoor recreation facility, bar and restaurant include community business, neighborhood business and regional business. 

Moore is holding a public forum for neighboring property owners at 6 p.m. Mar. 24 at shelter No. 2 at Northern Regional Park in Castle Hayne.

“The county requires that the developer hold a meeting for all property owners within 500 feet of the tract boundary, and any other interested parties,” according to a community notice about the meeting.

This allows the public to hear more about the proposal and express any concerns about the project.

Moore’s application indicates his rezoning would be consistent with county policy because it increases efficient use of land in the unincorporated county, encourages the creation of public and civic spaces, and supports the development of complete communities where residents can easily access recreational opportunities.

“Pickleball, according to many sources, is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” Moore explained in his application. “There are many social and health benefits that the sport provides.”

Moore has been playing for three years and decided to host a free tournament at Northern Regional Park last year. The turnout was greater than he anticipated. More than 300 people — hailing from as far as Arizona and Florida — signed up to compete. He advertised the event on pickleballtournaments.com, a website for avid players to search for upcoming tournaments.

“We woke up the next day and like 100 people already registered,” Moore explained. “Moments like that, the businessman in me is like maybe there’s a model here to have fun but also create a successful business.”

A flyer for an upcoming tournament promoted by Cape Fear Pickleball Club shows registration at $30 per event. As people travel from outside the area, there’s also an economic benefit of spending at hotels, restaurants, for gas and other expenditures.

Tournaments are just one draw of the pickleball park. He wrote in his application, it also  would add a “valuable cog in the county’s tourism engine.”

“I would equate what’s happening in pickleball right now to where road races were maybe 25 to 30 years ago,” Moore said. “Pickleball is starting to happen now. I’ve played tournaments in 12 or 13 states. There’s not a lot of folks like me, but a growing number willing to do that.”

Moore is still sorting out estimated costs, especially considering supply chain issues and inflation of construction materials but hopes to break ground some time this year.

Last month, Moore submitted a rezoning request application but withdrew it prior to the commissioners’ meeting because he didn’t feel quite prepared.

“For lack of a better word, we just weren’t ready,” he said.

Following the public meeting, Moore will bring his rezoning request before the New Hanover County Commissioners.


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