Editorial: Tennis facility needs a backer

The Whidbey Island Tennis Association has turned to the city of Oak Harbor for support in its years-long drive to build indoor tennis courts for community use.

Tennis enthusiasts have raised money for years for the project, and now an estimated $1 million is available for construction. The problem is that while they believe the facility will operate without losing money, they don’t have the wherewithal to operate it once it’s built.

Indoor tennis would be a great addition to the lifestyle of North Whidbey. Another place for healthy exercise all year around, a place for friends to meet and have fun, a place for elementary age students to learn a life-long sport, and a place for high school tennis players to learn to be competitive.

Efforts in recent years to have the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District accept responsibility have moved at a snail’s pace, so frustrated WITA members turned to the city. If this implies criticism of the Park District, it’s misplaced.

The Park District has to make certain that it can legally acquire a building constructed by a private non-profit group, and that the building is constructed to the correct standards. It also has to work with the school district as well as WITA, as the proposed tennis facility site would be leased from the school district. And the Park District would have to be assured that it’s not signing up to take responsibility for a money-losing white elephant. That’s a lot to ask of a small taxing district whose primary responsibility is a swimming pool. And if tennis revenues don’t match WITA’s predictions, the Park District could be left holding the bag. That wouldn’t look good to taxpayers.

As a result of these and other concerns, the Park District has been bogged down with legal issues surrounding the joint venture with WITA.

The city of Oak Harbor may be a better match. It’s a much larger entity, with more employees and available resources. It’s accustomed to working on complex legal issues with other entities, both private like WITA and public like the school district.

The city’s involvement should be able to move the project along, which would benefit everyone. The objective is to see that the indoor tennis facility is built using private money and that once it’s built it can be operated and maintained on a break-even basis. It doesn’t matter who does it as long as it gets done.

The city council should give serious consideration to taking the lead in this project.

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