Paul's Note - March 26, 2021

On Monday, I attended the opening of twelve new pickleball courts at Udall Park. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what pickleball was until I was approached by several local pickleball players a few years ago. They wanted more places in Tucson to play their sport. 

Many of our rec centers host pickleball, and there are private clubs in town that have it too. But, they wanted what sports like tennis, softball and disc golf have: a dedicated, outdoor site for pickleball. 

Unfortunately, much of our park space is in use, but I worked with Parks and Recreation to identify places where tennis courts are underused. The reason for this was simple: building a pickleball court can be expensive; repainting a tennis court to be up to four pickleball courts is not. 

The pickleball players proved to be tireless advocates for their sport, and they had a good point. It’s a fast growing sport (according to some surveys, the fastest) and we needed to provide places to play it. My colleagues and I put a $400,000 item in the Proposition 407 bond proposal that we voted on in 2018. 

A lot of questions came up. Originally, the plan was to convert the tennis courts at Ft. Lowell Park to pickleball. There were objections. Some came from neighbors who lived only a few feet from the existing tennis courts. They worried about noise. Pickleball uses a solid paddle and a hollow plastic ball. Plus, a tennis court that may have had at most four people playing on it would now be four pickleball courts with up to sixteen. I toured Ft. Lowell and had a demonstration of what the sound would be like and we discussed mitigation measures. 

I also heard from another group, these were tennis players. They called themselves The Raqueteers, and their issue was they wanted to make sure there was still tennis somewhere. It could be Udall Park, where the courts were in bad shape, or it could be at Ft. Lowell. If courts at Ft. Lowell were converted, they wanted to make sure the Udall Park courts were improved. 

We had a meeting at my office, call it a pickleball summit, where neighbors, park users, pickleball players and tennis players all met. Our compromise was this: use the money to repair and convert courts at Udall Park, and leave Ft. Lowell as a tennis facility. We are working on other improvements at Ft. Lowell, particularly the parking lot. 

Yeah, it took a while and it was hard to get all of the various interests on the same page. It could, at times, be frustrating, but this is what we need to do for public projects like this. I hope you all get yourself a paddle and try out the new courts. 

I’d like to tell you a little about another great recreation project on the west side.  

When they finished the improvements for I-10 through downtown years ago, they built an overpass so that Cushing Street could be extended across the Santa Cruz River and also to accommodate the street car. State transportation planners made it very wide, though. It could accommodate Cushing Street three times over. 

A group called The Tucson Skate Park Alliance had approached me and several of my colleagues four years ago with ideas for a skate park, one of which was using the excess land at the Cushing Street Overpass. It had shade and couldn’t be used for much of anything else. The trouble was money. 

Nevertheless, they persisted. They worked mainly with councilmember Lane Santa Cruz who loved the idea. She and city staff found the money from parks impact fees from downtown redevelopment. 

The only credit I can take is that I signed on to the memo that got it on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but it is exactly the sort of thing we should be doing more of. It’s still going to take some planning to move this project forward, but I may just buy a skate board and try it out. 

Both of these projects came out of long community conversations. When it comes to the proposed Zoo expansion, many people feel there wasn’t that conversation. That’s why my colleagues and I asked for 45 more days so the community could be engaged. 

The city is engaging a stakeholder group that includes people from the Save the Heart of Reid Park group as well as representatives of the Reid Park Zoological society and neighbors, and you can also make your views known by logging in to the online comment form