While Sarasota-based The Pickleball Club’s first of 15 planned locations will open in Lakewood Ranch in less than a week, its owner has always eyed St. Petersburg.
Brian McCarthy told the Catalyst that he might never find the land needed to build one of his expansive facilities in the densely developed city, but Pinellas Park is just about six miles north. His company is now under contract to buy an eight-acre parcel in the Gateway Centre Business Park for $1.75 million.
The proposed 40,000 square-foot climate-controlled Pickleball Club will feature 16 indoor and two outdoor courts, an outdoor activity area, a sprawling Players’ Lounge, a pro shop and a café. The Pinellas Park location will mark the company’s seventh throughout Florida and first in the region.
“The Tampa Bay market is a strong pickleball market with avid pickleballers of all ages,” McCarthy said. “The challenge is finding a convenient and accessible location, properly zoned and of adequate size to build a minimum of 12 indoor and two outdoor courts. We’ve worked a long time to find that location.”
In addition to the Sarasota club, locations in Port St. Lucie, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers and the Villages are under development. Company officials also announced they are purchasing a site in Venice.
However, McCarthy called the Tampa metro area the “800-pound gorilla. We’re the 200-pound gorilla out here,” he added.
He noted more pickleball players live on the north side of the Skyway Bridge, but finding affordable land is exponentially more challenging. McCarthy believes he will eventually find space in Wesley Chapel, but admitted Pinellas Park might be the closest he comes to St. Petersburg.
“While we would be willing to convert an existing facility, we have yet to find an acceptable building without columns and with sufficient ceiling height to accommodate those lob shots,” McCarthy said. “If anyone has three to four acres for sale in St. Pete, please let me know.”
However, he expressed his excitement for the Pinellas Park site – his largest club to date. McCarthy noted that the location is near the Howard Frankland and Gandy Bridges, and an ideal spot for people who commute to downtown Tampa or St. Pete for work.
He also said the Pinellas County club would be the most technologically advanced, amenity-rich pickleball facility in the country, much less the state.
“We are not a recreation facility,” McCarthy added. “We are a private club.”
He relayed that The Pickleball Club, founded in 2019, caters to members who wish to have an upscale experience. That includes cushioned courts, indirect lighting, “generous” back courts, a mobile app-based reservation system and courts designated for skilled players.
Pickles café will offer a barista bar, beer, wine, blended drinks and juices, but no hard liquor. McCarthy said The Pickleball Clubs are open to the entire family, and teens can become members.
There is also the Pickleball Academy, an extensive after-school youth program. A staff of 35 will operate the club 14 to 16 hours daily, seven days a week.
The St. Petersburg Pickleball Association has long advocated for a facility featuring 16 – preferably indoor – courts capable of hosting national tournaments. In a previous interview, President Kevin Cavanaugh called dedicated complexes “huge money makers” that would annually attract thousands of visitors to the area.
McCarthy said his company enjoys relationships with “most of the big” professional associations, and representatives have already asked The Pickleball Club to host major tournaments at its facilities.
“We are the first indoor, dedicated pickleball facility in the State of Florida,” he said. “We are the only club I’m aware of in the country with a 2,500 square-foot mezzanine Players’ Lounge for court play observation and special events.
“We’re pretty unique in the fact that we’re building a chain of 15 of them right now.”
McCarthy noted the project must still clear several bureaucratic and procedural hurdles, but he expects to open the Pinellas Park Pickleball Club in early 2025. That should come as welcome news for Mike Jefferis, St. Petersburg’s leisure services administrator.
Despite providing 55 courts throughout the city, Jefferis often hears pickleballers clamoring for more places to play. During a City Hall event in March, he said neighboring municipalities like Pinellas Park, Largo and Clearwater should help “carry the load” to accommodate the sport’s popularity.
McCarthy noted that park and recreation departments “usually love us because we’ve taken a little bit of that pressure off of them by building indoor courts.”
“It is obviously more costly to build indoor courts than outdoor courts,” he added. “The larger number of outdoor courts, the more we like the market. Because that means there’s more pickleball players there, and some of those players will want to join a private club. Believe it or not, it gets humid and hot in the summer here.”