EDITORIAL: Council might spend $325K to subsidize pickleball players

By: The Gazette editorial
March 14, 2014 Updated: March 14, 2014 at 9:06 am
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That was an answer given by City Councilman Don Knight after Mayor Steve Bach asked council members to look for ways city government might help stimulate economic growth. Bach shared the results of a U.S. Department of Labor report that said the metro area had not seen a net jobs increase in 13 years but had grown by about 100,000 residents. Retirees are moving in, and young people are leaving. With fewer young adults, dependence will grow and production will shrink.

Bach's email spoke about his hope for a revival of the airport, the new lease of the city's hospital system to University of Colorado Health and four development proposals collectively known as City for Champions. He hopes all will attract and/or employ young professionals, often referred to as millennials.

The City Council has mostly opposed City for Champions while the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and most area city councils have endorsed it as a potential driver of economic growth and jobs. Meanwhile, Springs council members have supported tax-subsidized retail developments that create no primary jobs and mostly give unfair advantage to a select few developers and merchants. Critics say the new council majority plays "small ball" and can't see the big picture.

Bach, who supports City for Champions in concept, emailed council members to ask how they would ignite economic growth if they cannot support City for Champions. He wants alternative ideas from them.

Knight replied by mentioning a proposed business park north of Fillmore and Nevada. Then he went straight to his favorite topic: Taxpayer subsidized pickleball.

Knight wants at least $325,000 from the Parks Department's Conservation Trust Fund reserve to convert tennis courts at Monument Valley Park, near his home, into pickleball courts. Knight believes this will attract a first regional pickleball tournament that "would generate over $300,000 a year." Besides, he likes the sport.

"So again answering 'If not C4C then what?' Either of the aforementioned projects would help drive this economy and should also serve as a guidepost for where we must exert our maximum collective energy," Knight wrote to Bach.

A Google search of "pickleball" brings up headlines and phrases such as: "Pickleball Open House - New Fad for Baby Boomers and Seniors."

The racquet sport involves a plastic ball with holes in it. A Washington state representative inadvertently invented the game while trying to play badminton in 1965. He couldn't find a birdie, so the politician used a wiffle ball instead. Pickleball was born.

Council President Keith King thinks Knight may persuade him and others on the council to spend the money.

"I think it would pass," King told The Gazette, reiterating how much baby boomers like pickleball.

If a one-time expense of $325,000 can land an annual tournament, and the tournament can truly generate $300,000 a year, Knight's idea may be solid - silly as it sounds.

But this much we know. Pickleball courts are not "a guidepost for where we must exert our maximum collective energy" in a quest to fix the economy. The fact Knight makes this argument, in writing and with passion, reinforces concerns about the council playing small ball and failing to support big-picture solutions to big league problems.

Though pickleball may be a fabulous and worthwhile sport, it is not the blueprint for attracting and retaining young productive workers and professionals who can help this economy flourish. Even a $300,000 annual return is not much help to an economy in need of thousands of jobs and tens of millions in new annual tax revenues.

Give us pickleball if it's a good investment. But please, start thinking bigger than this. We don't have time to waste playing games.

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