Donations keep tennis courts on schedule

The effort is a public/private enterprise.


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.

While Alachua County has scrapped plans for now to build a recreation center at Jonesville Park because of the sinking economy, construction of new tennis courts is under way thanks to a private effort by tennis enthusiasts.

The 14 courts will be the only public clay courts in the county and they are on target for completion in mid-March.

"I've been really impressed with the progress they've made," said Christine Shurtleff, president of the Gainesville Area Community Tennis Association and longtime volunteer for the U.S. Tennis Association. "I'm delighted that this is finally going forward. I'm organizing our USTA adult league now and a lot of people are saying they thought the courts were being cut with the recent budget cuts."

Shurtleff and other tennis players have been pushing the county for several years to build courts at Jonesville Park, and they helped develop a plan to build the courts with private money.

In addition to the 14 courts, the complex will have a pro shop with lockers, showers and other amenities. It is being built through a partnership between the county and tennis professional Dave Porter.

Porter got together the financing to build the complex on county property and will earn money back through the pro shop, lessons and court fees.

It is the second such public/private partnership at Jonesville Park and a third one is in the works with the building of softball and baseball fields with money from the Rotary Club. The first partnership was construction of soccer fields by the Gainesville Soccer Alliance, which is recouping its investment through tournament fees and concession sales.

County officials believe the partnerships are necessary if sports facilities are to be built at Jonesville because the county does not have the money to build the courts and fields itself.

The county had hoped to build a recreation center and pool, but the pool was dropped and the center was put on hold last year because of budget shortfalls. Of the main facilities, only those involving a partner are moving ahead right now.

"Rotary is providing money and in-kind services and material donations. They are doing the ball fields and the picnic area," said county parks superintendent Rob Avery. "The recreation center is on hold indefinitely, not only for construction costs but for its operation costs also."

The tennis pro shop will be in a renovated old building at the site. The 14 courts will include one show court with more space around it. The total cost is about $1.7 million.

Porter said the complex will be the largest public tennis facility in the county. It may be the largest public clay court complex in the region. Clay courts are softer, so they are easier on the body.

Under the contract with the county, some courts must be available for walk-on players so that lessons and league play do not occupy all the courts at the same time.

"Everything is on track for opening March 15," Porter said. "Absolutely, people will be able to come and play any time they want. We have to keep a minimum of two courts open, but it's a public facility and we are going to have courts open non-stop."

Fees will be $3 per player per hour for singles, $3 per player for 1 1/2 hours in doubles and $5 per person for court reservations. Ball machines will be available for rent. Hours will be from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tennis player Anne Koterba said she is happy the complex is finally about to open. She added that Jonesville Park in general is getting more activity and visitors.

"Without these partnerships, this 100-acre regional park would probably have remained undeveloped for several more years," she said. "It's a very busy place right now and good for the local economy. All the construction work at the site is providing much needed local employment for the building industry."

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