Tennis.

Residents may soon pay a bit more in order to guarantee playing time at the town’s best sports courts that debuted in late July than for they do for court rentals at other Gilbert parks.

The 16 pickleball, six tennis and two basketball courts have been a big hit in the community since they opened July 24 at Gilbert Regional Park. All the courts currently are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s our new facility and it’s our premier facility,” Rocky Brown, Business Operations manager, told the Parks and Recreation Board last week. “We’ve been real excited by the support they’ve received.”

The proposed charges include $12 per hour for residents; $16 an hour for nonresidents; $20 an hour for lessons and league use by a Gilbert business and $28 an hour for a non-Gilbert business, according to Brown. Reservations must be one-hour minimum.

The fee for renting a tennis court for an hour is $7 for residents and $8.75 for nonresidents for parks like McQueen District, Circle G and Freestone District.

The board may vote on the proposed fees in its next monthly meeting in October.

The town’s first competition-ready pickleball courts especially have been a draw. 

“The 16 pickleball courts are used to a very high level,” said Robert Carmona, Parks and Recreation director.

People are lining up at 5 a.m. and when the courts open at 5:30 a.m., there is a mad dash to get to them, Carmona added.

Chairman Bob Ferron said he’s been out to the courts half a dozen times to drop off his son for tennis and the courts are busy.

“I’ve been shocked,” he said. “Even at 110 (degrees) it’s packed solid.”

Brown said the proposal was to leave the front eight pickleball courts for open play and set aside the eight back courts for reservations.

 He added there was not much demand for reserving the tennis and basketball courts but nonetheless they can be reserved without turning away the public.

Staff also was looking at a mandatory booking seven days in advance for a court online at Active.com.

Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Hill suggested a shorter window of three days to book in case someone was having friends over for a weekend and wanted to use the courts, but added that she is comfortable with the pricing.

Board member Ben Kalkman asked how the department will police the courts to check who has reservations.

Brown said park rangers floating through the park would be aware of the booking calendar and generally there is an employee stationed down south. He added that people will be able to show their reservations on their cell phones.

Kalkman suggested the department install a digital screen at the location that would show the reservations. Brown liked the idea if it didn’t cost much and they could mount it in a way that it didn’t get vandalized.

Board member Paul Gonzales asked how much of the courts’ maintenance and the wear-and-tear would be covered by the proposed fees.

“Any fee we charge would help with cost recovery,” said Brown, adding that staff can do a cost analysis to get better details on the matter.

“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the country,” said board member Marc Beasley, who asked if it was staff’s intention to offer the courts for residents or to make money off them.

Carmona responded, “I think our biggest goal is to find a balance.”

He said when Town Council envisioned the creation of the 272-acre regional park, there was an element of cost recovery.

Staff noted if a court is not reserved, it will be available for free play.

For league play, classes and tournaments, staff suggested potential options such as having the town coordinate them, hire an independent contractor or create a partnership. The business rate would be charged.

Brown said staff doesn’t want to book a tournament every weekend as it would drive away the public. He suggested a cap of one per month to start.

The sports courts are part of the regional park’s Phase 1B 24-acre development near Higley and Queen Creek roads. The town unveiled the park’s first 30-acre phase a year ago.

The remaining amenities of the latest phase include a 7.5-acre fishing lake, an amphitheater, six sand-volleyball courts and additional ramadas. They are scheduled for a fall opening, though the date is to be announced later.

Brown said due to COVID-19, the grand-opening for Phase 1B won’t be a big event like with past debuts. The plan is to spread the celebration out over four days beginning with a virtual ribbon-cutting and a luminary launch over the lake, he said.

Day 2 would include a dine-out at the park with a luminary launch and Day 3 would include a morning yoga/exercise class and an evening concert in the park with fireworks.

For the final day, there would be a fishing derby and court activities like a tournament in the morning with a movie in the park for the evening.

Staff also reviewed upcoming events that will either be virtual or live for this fall in town.

 Live events include offering movies and concerts at the regional park’s amphitheater, according to Mike Leppert, senior recreation coordinator. 

Social distancing will be practiced with 15-foot circles that can be reserved for up to eight people in a household, Leppert said. Masks will be required when people are outside of their circle.

This year’s Riparian After Dark will be held for 10 consecutive days instead of over three weekends and there will be a nominal ticket charge to control attendance.  

The town’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 5 will require ticketed reservation at the regional park with seats positioned apart for social distancing. The free event also will be streamed live on Facebook.

Leppert said staff is still working out details for the annual Gilbert Days event in mid-November.  

Virtual events include a Drive-in Holiday Tower Lighting, a two-night event at the town’s iconic water tower downtown. 

The event includes synchronized lighting with music of five to six songs transmitted to car radios, and reserved time for when cars can drive by, Leppert said. 

Other virtual events include a Gilbert Camp‐In Event on Oct. 2-4, a Gilbert Ghost Hunt for Halloween weekend and a Gilbert Centennial Challenge for running, biking, swimming and walking. The challenge has not yet been scheduled.