General Contractor: Southern Cross Contracting Inc.
Design firm: Balaity Property Enhancement
When the Bird Key Yacht Club board of governors went looking for ideas to improve the club, Brian McCarthy, then the club's strategic planning chair, suggested pickleball. But a few neighbors concerned about noise levels associated with the sport nixed that idea for the club, in Sarasota between downtown and St. Armands Circle.
For McCarthy, however, it was the push he needed to start his own pickleball club.
“It got me engaged in the pickleball industry,” the now owner of The Pickleball Club LLC in Sarasota says. McCarthy went into the project with his wife Valerie McCarthy and business partner Matthew Gordon. McCarthy is a 30-year United States Navy veteran, with a background in engineering.
He researched what was missing from the sport for local players. The answer? Indoor courts.
The first location, just outside Lakewood Ranch, is already underway across the street from the office, at 1300 Sarasota Center Blvd., between Fruitville Road and University Parkway, east of Interstate 75. And the plans ballon from there: six more locations are under contract — Port St. Lucie, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, two in The Villages and Pinellas Park — with a goal of a total of 15 in four to five years time across Florida.
What McCarthy is building is so much more than just indoor pickleball courts. In addition to 12 interior courts, there will also be two outdoor courts and two bocce courts. Back inside, the highlights include the Dinks Pro Shop which will carry paddles and pickleball clothing, and the Pickles café that, despite its name, doesn’t serve pickles but instead espresso drinks, smoothies, juices, light food options, beer and wine.
A 1,200 square foot mezzanine that overlooks the facility will be available to be rented out for events. The facility also has the capability of hosting food trucks with two hookups.
The goal was to “appease the masses,” General Manager Dominic Catalano says, adding that ping pong and corn hole will be available.
The first Pickleball Club is expected to be completed by mid to late January, and demand is certainly there, with the club already having over 200 members.
“Just over a year ago, this was all trees,” Catalano says looking at the project. “Now to see it come to fruition is kind of crazy. It’s almost emotional. It was just down on paper two years ago.”
Already people are signing up to be members — and it’s not even open yet.
The initiation fee right now is $1,000 but will bump up to $1,500 once the club is open. Monthly payments, which won’t start until it’s open, are just over $100. As more people sign there will be a wait list, because club officials don't want people to wait to play.
“It costs more to go to Ruth’s Chris for dinner than it does to play a month of pickleball with us,” McCarthy says.
The courts are set up with cameras that players can choose to record their play. Plus, players won’t have to worry about those cameras catching the wind carrying their ball away, touching on another specific detail.
“The control,” Catalano says. The courts inside are climate controlled at a cool 70 degrees. No rain. No sun. Everyday.
So all players have to worry about is whether they want to take part in an open play game or skilled play. Those are options available to members. But even non-members can take part in pickleball lessons and events.
“Pickleball is such a social sport,” Catalano says. “That’s what we’re trying to create here.”
“People are not naive to the growth of pickleball,” Catalano says, adding they’re seeing that on the investor side, with some 50 potential interested investors.
“The easy part is building the buildings,” McCarthy says. “The hard part is building the teams.”
Each location will require a team of 12-15 full time employees and a handful of part time positions. But finding the right people who are qualified and passionate about pickleball takes some time.
Another uphill battle is raising capital. Right now, the company has raised $6 million from private investors. But with each location costing between $10-12 million it may be a slower rollout of clubs than hoped for initially. To date, building the first location and acquiring all four properties has cost the company over $4 million in equity and $13 million in debt. McCarthy says over $2 million was provided by the principal investors.
On top of that, “land has been a big problem,” McCarthy says. Each project requires three to five acres and that has been hard to find. It took a year to find a properly zoned property in Sarasota, for example.
But once land has been acquired, most everything goes smoothly in terms of construction. A 4.05-acre site in Bonita Springs, 3.5 acre site in Port St. Lucie and a 3.04 acre site in Fort Myers have all been acquired, with projects expected to start in the next few months. Land parcels in Venice and and The Villages are currently under contract and going through the permitting process.
The layouts of the clubs will be similar. “Almost a copy and paste,” Catalano says.
More copying and pasting could be on the way: with the sport growing at an annual average rate of 11.5% over the past five years, in addition to 14.8% in 2021 and 21.3% in 2020, according to USA Pickleball data, McCarthy is confident he can put some 25 locations in Florida.
Amanda Postma is a business reporter covering Sarasota and Manatee counties. After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 2018, Amanda was a reporter for a small-town newspaper in Missouri before becoming a marketing associate for a career resource startup in St. Louis.