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April 22, 2024

Pickleball Gets a Permanent Spot at Wollman Rink

New York Times

Pickleball Gets a Permanent Spot at Wollman Rink

The courts are being resurfaced as the rapidly growing sport of pickleball becomes the off-season replacement for skating in Central Park.

Last year, pickleball courts were rolled out as the off-season replacement for skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park. The playing surface was like a huge acrylic carpet that covered the rink’s concrete floor.

This year, there won’t be anything between the pickleball players’ feet and the rink itself. The floor is being resurfaced.

CityPickle, which now has a three-year deal for pickleball at the rink, says the new surface will be permanent and will do double duty for the sport, which is sometimes described as the easier-going cousin of tennis. When skating season returns, the pickleball courts will winter, unseen, under the ice. The company also says that the new surface will drain and dry faster after a rainstorm than the acrylic carpet did, so players can get back on the courts sooner.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity during the pandemic, surging to 13.6 million players in the United States last year from 4.8 million in 2021, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. CityPickle’s receiving permission to resurface the rink was “a real vote of confidence for pickleball,” said Mary Cannon, a principal of CityPickle. The company covered the $250,000-plus cost of the resurfacing with Wollman Park Partners, the concessionaire for the rink.

She said it was a significant turning point that the Department of Parks and Recreation, “which is conservative in nature, as it should be, has waved in Wollman Rink as a permanent home for pickleball courts.”

The city parks commissioner, Sue Donoghue, said that allowing a concessionaire to pay for improvements at a city facility was “not so unusual.” The Parks Department oversees about 70 other outdoor pickleball courts across the city that are free and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

What sets the Wollman Rink courts apart is that CityPickle takes reservations and charges fees — $10 to $12.50 per player, depending on the time. CityPickle and Wollman Park Partners say there are also six court hours a day at $5 per person, a price that includes paddle rental.

Last year, the pricing schedule drew criticism from some players. “The price was almost certainly set with rich people and tourists in mind,” a Reddit user who goes by mavajo wrote. Indeed, CityPickle said that the courts became popular with people visiting the city who were also heading for observation decks, Broadway shows and museums.

CityPickle said that its courts at the rink were in use 73 percent of the time last year and drew more than 56,000 players, a total that Donoghue called “extraordinary.” She said that the “pricing is always a concern” and that the department kept tabs on concessionaries. But she added that the pickleball operation at Wollman Rink “really is aligned with what we want to do, which is provide access to the most up-to-date sports and active recreation.”

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