Arnie Wilkins of College Park East believes Seal Beach should get out of the tennis club business.
Wilkins contacted me after the Sun print edition published a “My Turn” column called “Parks plan on the Tennis Center and an aquatics park,” which was based on my blog on the same subject.
Basically, the Seal Beach Parks Master Plan recommended that the city hire a professional park design service to perform a community outreach and design a specific plan to merge the Seal Beach Tennis Center with Blue Bell Park. According to the Master Plan, as I reported in my original blog, the city’s park consultant, Richard Fischer Associates, hired another consulting firm, the Behavior Research Center, to conduct a survey of 300 individuals about Seal Beach’s park and recreation facilities. The survey found that about half of the individuals surveyed knew something about the Tennis Center, but only 17 percent actually used it.
I originally argued that a one problem with the Tennis Center is that the membership fee was too high at $95 a month. There, Wilkins disagrees with me. He came by the Sun to talk and the rest of this blog is based either on the interview or on a follow-up email he sent me.
“Some years back Old Ranch Tennis Club had over 400 paying members ($100 + a month). And at one time a membership fee just to join, plus a required recommendation from a current member. That’s all gone or fallen off now as well as the interest in tennis itself,” Wilkins wrote in an email “Check the sport sections of any newspaper. ”
“Young people joining could make a difference and that should be within a strategic plan in future use of the facility. Note: The City will have a very tough time growing (SBTC) memberships unless they start thinking outside the box,” Wilkins wrote.
“Maybe the SBTC might try it free for a while in order to measure what kind of increased participation will come. My bet will be of it not changing at all, as well as losing the current paying membership who’ll still come for free….So maybe the cost or no cost has nothing to do with it. Maybe it has to do with what’s to use,” Wilkins wrote.
That might explain the lack of local members. As I reported in a news story earlier this year, an April presentation to the City Council said 43 Seal Beach residents belong to the Tennis Club. Wilkins said in the 1960s, 400 locals were members.
In our interview, Wilkins said that somebody has to come up with a better use for the property or take government out of running it. Wilkins doesn’t believe government can run a business. He said he would prefer seeing the city lease the property to a private company.
I didn’t tell him that Seal Beach has tried variations of that model in the past. The city hired a company to run the city jail, but lost money on the deal. I won’t go into the convoluted story of the Ruby’s Diner that used to be at the end of the Seal Beach Pier. So far as I know, the River’s End Cafe, which also leases city property, is doing well. The Tennis Center has passed through several private managers, so I’d say Seal Beach has one success out of three to date for hybrid government/business operations.
One point on which the consultant and Wilkins seem to be in agreement is that the Tennis Center should be remodeled.
Perhaps the most important thing is this: the city is putting effort and money into a Tennis Center at a time when interest in tennis is low. Perhaps expanding the offerings would be more productive. So in that sense, Wilkins is very much correct.
And I’ll concede that I might have been wrong about the cost of membership being part of the problem with the Tennis Center. One thing no one can deny, though, is that what we as a community are doing at that Tennis Center isn’t working to the community’s benefit. If it’s broke, fix it. And doing what we’ve always done before doesn’t appear to be a winning strategy.