Tennis backers bounce to county for help to find site

After being turned down by the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District, the Oak Harbor School Board and the city of Oak Harbor, the Whidbey Island Tennis Association went before the Board of Island County Commissioners last week in its quest to build an indoor facility.

WITA President Fred Henninger, who is also a Park District commissioner, laid out plans for the impressive 33,000-square-foot structure. The nonprofit organization reportedly has $1.2 million in the bank, the bulk of it in mutual funds as of the last six months.

“If the stock market goes up, the amount of money will go up,” Henninger said. “If it goes down, the amount will go down.”

Although presentations to other local entities have not bore fruit, the organization has done its research, aided by two architects and two state universities.

“It’s important to have a facility where you know it’s not going to be rainy or windy when you play on it,” Henninger told the county commissioners.

Interlocal agreements bode well for non-profit organizations, which prompted the association to approach the county. Henninger said the WITA is eyeing properties “in the public domain,” but did not want to reveal the sites or the owners.

The association has stopped soliciting funds until a building permit has been obtained. Henninger said the nature of donations to a nonprofit organization makes returning funds to the donor difficult or even impossible. The dollars, however, are there once the project moves further along.

“We feel there is money available to complete the building,” he said.

The WITA president speculated that the school district and city balked at the project because they were concerned that they would ultimately be saddled with a building that they would be responsible for running and maintaining themselves.

WITA board member Hank Koetje sat beside Henninger and appealed to the commissioners. A longtime tennis player who has been forced to find indoor facilities elsewhere, he maintained that the indoor tennis courts would get used.

“There’s a lot of people who would use this facility,” he said.

Under the association’s proposed plan, the tennis association would purchase the property, donate it to the county, and the county would lease it back to the nonprofit, which would run the facility.

The commissioners asked for time to process the information and let the idea marinate.

“We would like a little political help when we designate this piece of property,” Henninger said.

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