Town officials are looking to forge a new partnership with the New Canaan Racquet Club and also find some new uses for the under-utilized tennis courts at Mead Park in order to boost attendance there.
In 2018, New Canaan sold 112 season passes for the clay courts, bringing in about $10,000 in revenues against $14,000 just to open the facility and thousands for more attendants, according to the Parks & Recreation Commission.
“There is a considerable shortfall on tennis that the town has to make up,” Commissioner Carl Mason said during the appointed body’s Feb. 13 meeting at Town Hall. “Even if we were to look at some of our better years, looking back at 2015 or so, we have a shortfall.”
Though tennis instruction clinics bring in some money, they effectively just “cover their costs” and it’s hard to justify redoing the clay courts for an estimated $140,000 “without any real hard data on usage,” Mason said.
“We are really not finding any champions for tennis in New Canaan at this point in time,” Mason said while presenting the full Commission with an update on the eight Mead Park courts.
The Commission should consider whether all of those courts must be dedicated to tennis, given the low demand, or whether “we can convert those courts for other sports,” Mason said.
“One thing that has been discussed is pickle ball. The hard court is maybe a venue for pickle ball. Or maybe even volleyball, basketball or a flexible field on one of the Har-Tru courts.”
Recreation officials also have met with the New Canaan Racquet Club to talk about a new partnership. Under an early version of that agreement, Racquet Club pros would give lessons or put on clinics on unused Mead Park courts on one or two days per week so long as those who are getting the lessons are permit-holders, officials said.
“If the courts remain unused, the question is: Are we OK with leasing them maybe to the New Canaan Racquet Club to try and build them up for tennis, even if some of those attendees may be non-New Canaan residents?” Mason said. “And does the revenue justify this?”
Recreation Director Steve Benko said there’s a need to “reinvigorate” tennis community-wide, at the private clubs as well as the Racquet Club. Some ideas for doing that include reviving one or two small round robin tournaments that New Canaan used to run, he said, though there are some challenges with that.
“One of the things that we have is a lot of the women who used to play during the day are all back at work,” Benko said.
He added that it would help improve use of the facility if a flagstone terrace or something similar at the colonnade located amid the courts with benches and chairs.
“The thing that’s lacking at Mead Park is socialization” for tennis players, Benko said.
Commission Chair Sally Campbell said it’s critical to track daily usage of the Mead Park courts in order to make an informed decision about how to change its use. She said officials have been advocating for conversion of at least some of the facility for “pickle ball” use in recent years, referring to an increasingly popular recreational sport that’s seen strong demand at the New Canaan YMCA.
Regarding the Racquet Club partnership, Benko said he would be OK with it if those getting the lessons held permits. Though New Canaan would not take a cut of the lesson fee, Benko said, the agreement is expected to increase the number of permit-holders and generally build interest in tennis.