Tennis & Trees

by Jeremy Morrison

After wading into the public discussion, Pensacola City Council President Jared Moore surfaced with two, not necessarily conflicting, takeaways.

“So, obviously we hear tonight, ‘fix the courts,’ I think that’s a clear message. And ‘save the trees.’ Those are the two loud messages that I’m hearing,” Moore assessed during the Nov. 18 city council meeting.

The issue on the table: renovations at Roger Scott Tennis Center, including repairs to tennis courts, as well as landscaping and lighting, and, in particular, the addition of more parking and an accompanying stormwater pond that would mean cutting about 70 trees.

The city is partnering with Escambia County on this work at Roger Scott, with each entity expected to contribute about $1.3 million to the effort. However, the project has stalled a bit as city council members requested that the plans be reworked to save trees on the property.

“I think we should go slow, do the courts and postpone parking and the pond,” suggested Councilwoman Jennifer Brahier, whose district contains the municipal tennis center.

Brahier said that her constituents favored saving trees on the property and suggested that the city could forgo plans for additional parking, and thus the stormwater pond if they considered creating street parking as part of a road-diet project on Summit Boulevard.

“These don’t have to be one or the other,” she said.

Councilwoman Brahier also noted that leaving trees on the property at Roger Scott would be beneficial insofar as stormwater issues were concerned.

“I just want to be real clear here; trees mitigate stormwater,” she said, calling removing the trees to make way for a stormwater pond “shortsighted.”

Local environmental advocates expressed support for this approach, as did the local tennis community. Mainly, they stressed to the council; the tennis courts just needed the renovations completed.

David Mayo, who founded the Pensacola Open Wheelchair Tennis Championship, which ran from 2004 to 2016, said that the court conditions at Roger Scott eventually led to his event—one that attracted international competitors—being scrubbed from the calendar.

“Sadly, because the conditions of the court deteriorated over those years, with cracks and dips and it became such a problem, safety, that we lost our sanction, so we had to disband the tournament,” Mayo explained. “Frankly, it was a bit of an embarrassment to me.”

Mayo agreed with other members of the tennis community that spoke at the Nov. 18 council meeting that the additional parking area wasn’t of paramount import. Players can make do with the current dirt lot.

“The condition that they’re in now, I have no problem, in a wheelchair, going around through the hardpack dirt, going around to the front, it’s really not even an issue to me, the pavement there, for whatever that’s worth,” Mayo said.

Mayor Robinson explained to city council members that city planners drafted the Roger Scott improvements based on the requirements of city ordinances. Because the job entailed additional paved parking, a stormwater retention pond is also required.

Because these improvement plans are based on the requirements of city ordinances, the mayor said, it’s within the council’s power to sidestep such requirements.

“You are welcome to waive that; it’s your ordinance, you can waive that,” Robinson said, telling the council that without such constrictions, staff could “be more creative” in its planning.

Council decided unanimously to go ahead and approve an interlocal agreement with Escambia County to solidify the funding, but with the caveat that the plans be reworked without the additional parking and required stormwater pond.

“There’s just so many ways to do this thoughtfully and consciously and over time instead of rushing into something silly and very shortsighted,” concluded Councilwoman Brahier.

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1 thought on “Tennis & Trees

  1. Mayor Robinson and the city council do know the real history of this project. On October 28 and November 5, I wrote the city council providing the documents that describe the history of the Roger Scott Tennis Center project back to its origin in 2016. I also described current concerns to include whether the city council knows that the Roger Scott Tennis Center is run like a private membership tennis club by the “for-profit” Gulf Coast Tennis Group (GCTG); that the GCTG has a beer & wine alcohol license (Councilwoman Myers and Parks & Recreation Board Chairman Rand Hicks did not know); that the GCTG also serves vodka and tequila drinks, possibly in violation of state law; that alcohol is consumed “on” the courts (I have seen it first hand); that the GCTG serves alcohol next-door to the Northeast YMCA, about two hundred feet from Cordova Park elementary School (Does the school board or PTA know?) and right across-the street from Councilman Moore’s home; or the GCTG charges annual membership fees higher than as authorized by law, the city council setting the fees each year. Most city residents would be shocked to learn the city council votes to make a city family pay $1,071.32 a year to play tennis at the city-owned & maintained Roger Scott Tennis Center. [Robinson lets his friends who own the GCTG charge more – $1,151.67.] In October 2016, the city council held a LOST IV workshop and agreed to support Mayor Hayward’s recommendation to reconstruct the Roger Scott Tennis Center’s 18 hardcourts. Myers and I were present. In September 2017 and September 2018, the city council voted to transfer a combined total of $1.2 million from the LOST IV fund to the Roger Scott Tennis Center fund. The project should have been completed by September 2019. Robinson took office and, mysteriously, nothing happened. However, on August 23 of this year, Parks & Recreation Director Cooper testified at the city council budget workshop describing that $927,604 remained in the Roger Scott Tennis Center fund to finish the project he described as “Rebuild Roger Scott Tennis Center hard courts.” Unfortunately, no city councilmember thought to ask Cooper, “Why is the project two years late?” I was shocked to see Robinson next write the BCC (on September 15) and without the knowledge of the city council testify three times before the BCC asking for $1.3 million for a project not known to or approved by the city council. After I told Myers what Robinson was doing, she testified before the BCC at the October 21. Robinson called her a liar and then had his tennis center friends bombard her with hate e-mails. The project approved by the city council in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and again on September 15, 2021 was and is to reconstruct the 18 hardcourts. The city council has never approved converting hardcourts into clay courts (that the Gulf Coast Tennis Group wants to charge more to use), building a new court (clay) directly across from Moore’s home, adding a stormwater pond, adding a parking lot and cutting down 70 trees. The city council should rebuke Robinson and tell him to finish the project recommended by Hayward and approved by the city council six times to date. The city council should give back the $1.3 million to the BCC with the recommendation that it build a “county” tennis center. Rather than waste $3 million in city American Rescue Plan dollars to move the homeless from one site to three, take that money and build a new tennis center on the city’s westside and named in honor of Councilman Ron Townsend a big supporter of tennis. Both tennis centers should be public facilities where city residents have priority use and play for free.

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