Developer set to serve indoor pickleball complex in Visalia

The upcoming sports All American Sports Center is set to add 31 indoor pickleball courts to Visalia, which currently has 10 public courts in two locations at Plaza Park and Recreation Park.(Bryan on AdobeStock)

$4M project would redevelop old lumber yard into 31 indoor pickleball courts with a restaurant, pro shop, lockers and off-street parking

VISALIA – Nonagenarian Johnny George is adding indoor pickleball to his list of large development projects making news in Visalia.

George is already pouring about $20 million into a nostalgic replica of Mearle’s, a new drive-in theater and cluster of other developments on South Mooney. This fall George will open the Great American Hotdog stand on Tulare Avenue promising the best hotdog in Visalia. Now he plans to increase the number of pickleball courts in Visalia by about four times with a new 70,000 square-foot indoor complex.

Modeled after a country club atmosphere, George says the complex will have 31 indoor pickleball courts, a restaurant, a pro shop, a rental desk, lockers and parking for 140 cars. He estimates spending about $4 million on the project, now tentatively approved by the city.

The project will be heard at a city site plan meeting this week.

Courts will be open to the public with a benefit as a club member or as a walk-in with the number of courts expected to draw players from around the area.

George says he expects the All American Sports Center on Bridge Street north of Tulare Avenue to open in 2025.

Over the years, George has invested in Visalia properties that others thought were over the hill. When the huge California Olive plant on Tulare Avenue closed, George saw a potential to divide the warehouse and cold storage space, renting portions out to a dozen companies who still use the buildings. Likewise on Bridge Street a few years ago, George bought what was the vacant Rich Brothers Lumber, where he will use a portion for the new indoor center. Both these investments are in old railroad properties on the Santa Fe corridor once teaming with shipping and processing companies in the heart of town.

Most of Visalia’s old lumber yards were located on rail lines. They have now been converted to new uses. For example, the old Copeland Lumber on Oak Street is now home to a new multi-family Self Help housing project. The old rail yard at Oak and Burke will soon be transformed into the new City Hall.

Popular sport

The game of pickleball has swept the nation in popularity with about 20 million players nationwide, and is said to be the fastest growing sport in the country. Somewhere between ping-pong and tennis, the game played on a small court has attracted senior citizen enthusiasts who clog Visalia’s 10 converted tennis courts every day. Players often have to wait patiently for a court to become free. The sport has turned into a social network of pickleball players and even leagues who compete at various levels.

Visalia currently has 10 public courts in two locations at Plaza Park and Recreation Park. Plans are in the works for a new court on the far east part of town near the old swap meet.

Rain or shine

The new twist here is that these are privately built, indoor courts eliminate the elements – hot, cold or fog – which limit play outdoors for about six months of the year. It also extends the playing day after sundown as the indoor courts will have lights.

Developments similar to this have sprouted up in desert communities in the Southwest, where heat is even a greater factor than it is in Visalia. One Company has built a chain of pickleball complexes at seven locations in the western U.S.

While play is not free, George and others say there’s a market for players to have access to courts without waiting day or night, rain or shine.

Pickle mall?

The financial periodical Forbes recently covered what they called the “exploding market” for indoor pickleball.

“We’re deep into the pickleball craze in the United States, with participation numbers continuing to swell and demand rising for courts nationwide. At the same time, we’re seeing opportunistic operators take over abandoned shopping malls and move into spaces once occupied by big-box stores that are falling on hard times.”

The report continued, “One of the biggest names in the pickleball-goes-to-the-mall trend is none other than the Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn, with his appropriately named ‘Pickle mall’ concept; he’s already making nationwide plans for construction. But Kuhn is by no means the only player in the market, and we’ve already seen dozens of indoor facilities open around the country.”

George is not the first to bring popular sports indoors, coupling bleachers, a restaurant and craft beer to watch – or play in this case – soccer games.

“Soccer City 1852” located on Murray in downtown Visalia has been open for a couple of years and draws a big crowd of players and enthusiastic onlookers founded by several Visalia families. It is also located in another former railroad era property.

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