Former single-use tennis courts turned multi-use pickleball courts aren’t the only outdoor amenities getting a facelift.
It’s not about the amenities offered, it’s about the camaraderie of residents, what the amenity represents to each resident and the community’s ability to adapt when needed. Yes, amenity use has changed during the past three years and has shaped how some amenities will, or won’t, be utilized in the future.
Owners, management teams and others have needed to alter their operations and offerings based on resident lifestyles, which might have changed while living in the community. These adjustments have resulted in more amenity choices for residents, some new to the community, and some to make better use of a former amenity space.
Growing in Popularity
Is it a craze or here to stay? Pickleball has taken the country by storm during recent years. The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) announced in February pickleball was the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. for the third consecutive year.
The number of players has jumped significantly as well. There were 4.8 million players in the U.S. over the age of six, according to the 2022 SFIA report, but that has increased to 8.9 million in the latest report.
The number of courts is also increasing. According to USA Pickleball, there are more than 44,000 courts, up from more than 38,000 in 2021. Pickleball-registered facilities witnessed a jump as well, from 9,167 to 10,724.
“One amenity trend that is here to stay is pickleball,” says Josh Kassing, Senior Vice President at Mary Cook Associates, a national interior architecture and design firm. “It’s one of the few sports that nearly everyone can play and pick up quickly. Its popularity spans generations, so kids, parents and grandparents can compete together.”
While the excitement and hype are there, a pickleball court must make sense operationally. Community location is a determining factor as well. Raul Tamez, Sr. Director of Development based in Greystar’s Newport Beach, Calif., office, says pickleball is here to stay; however, “I can’t imagine adding pickleball courts because space is at such a premium in Southern California. I could see single-family rentals adding pickleball because it is more community oriented and accessible than tennis, but even in a single-family community the popping is very loud, so if you aren’t careful with acoustics then it can get very loud.”
Optima is meeting residents’ demand for entertainment—and started on the pickleball trend early. Dating back several years, Optima was striping basketball courts to make room for pickleball courts. “Residents at Optima Lakeview [in Chicago] have created their own pickleball club and we’ve brought in pickleball instructors for seminars and scrimmages, as well,” says David Hovey Jr., AIA, President, COO and Principal Architect at Optima.
As fast as pickleball is growing in the U.S., not every community needs a new pickleball court. There are numerous factors that determine if a community has a pickleball court like any other amenity or community offering: It must be feasible. “The goal is to make the amenity usable, instead of just a box to check on the website,” says Kassing. “People have found value in outdoor spaces but will only choose to use them if they are done well. You need to consider things like climate—temperature, sunlight and wind protection – as well as functionality and flexibility.”
Pickleball can be played indoors and outdoors, so weather is an extremely important item to consider. It must also make financial sense. While the sport is the fastest growing in the country, “we haven’t seen the growth of pickleball in all levels of apartments or communities. Its growth has been reserved for more affluent demographics, not budget-focused or affordable housing, certainly,” says Victor Body-Lawson FAIA, Founding Principal of Body Lawson Associates. He says that could change in the future.
Optima and Hovey Jr. noticed this trend formulating, so they designed an outdoor pickleball arena at 7190 Kierland in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Demand has been high for pickleball in Arizona, and we’re excited to host resident tournaments and build additional resident programming around this amenity. Optima residents can’t seem to get enough of pickleball – they’re thrilled to have easy access to this fun sport right in their own backyard.” But to combat the dry, summer heat, Optima also offers indoor pickleball courts in Scottsdale as well as at its Chicagoland communities: Optima Lakeview and the latest Optima Verdana, delivering in July 2023.
“Similar to tennis, it’s a significant amount of space that is devoted to a single very specific use,” says Brad Lutz, Managing Principal of Chicago and Multifamily/Residential Practice Leader for Baker Barrios. “This really bucks nearly all other amenity trends, which have a fair amount of emphasis on blurring the lines between spaces and also allowing flexibility between uses. Or at least easy convertibility to another use.” Converting old, unused amenities doesn’t have to be a new trend in the industry. “Flexibility is the name of the game. The best return on investment is a space that can serve multiple functions,” says Lutz.
Keeping up with current amenity trends is an important way to avoid being placed in similar situations that can be seen today in the industry. It’s not just about the court. Communities also feature amenities surrounding pickleball areas. Kassing says they are adding indoor viewing areas where residents can socialize between games as well as shuffleboard and similar multi-generational activities.
One of the reasons communities and other businesses are making changes is because amenities aren’t always future-proof. The vision needed to avoid tennis courts currently being turned into pickleball courts was not readily available. But multifamily professionals are trying to not let that happen again.
While not necessarily future-proofing, industry professionals are making sure amenities can be multi-use. “The inclusion of pickleball courts in a community should be studied based on the geography and target audience,” says Grayson Silver, Managing Partner of Tampa and Mixed-Use and Student Housing Practice Leader for Baker Barrios. “Suburban area developments offer greater flexibility in land area without impacting traditional outdoor amenities. They can also be easily converted to other amenities should the development operations determine it is not being utilized as frequently as desired. In an urban setting, land is more valuable and ROI on amenities needs to be more carefully considered.”
The mixed- or multi-use aspect of pickleball courts gives them a better opportunity to stay long term. “In general, the reintroduction of sports courts feels like it’s here to stay, particularly if a court can be multi-use, such as a squash court with a basketball hoop that can serve a wider array of residents,” says Alison Mills, Vice President of Design and Development at CRG. “Multi-use outdoor spaces are key. An outdoor lawn that is thoughtfully designed to accommodate yoga, outdoor fitness, lounging and games will have a much higher ROI than a single-use attraction. Outdoor co-working spaces are also highly sought after, as people continue to take their work home. We are also exploring a branded, property-specific bike-share or e-scooter fleet to provide to residents who want to get around easily and sustainably.”
It’s not just former tennis courts making the natural misnomer progression to pickleball courts. “We have clients integrating pickleball courts into existing parking lots, tennis courts and other outdoor areas using temporary systems, but no one is devoting permanent space to them. The trend seems to be to keep things flexible, and options open,” says Joshua Zinder, AIA, Managing Partner with JZA+D.
There’s a reason pickleball has caught on at such a rapid pace. “It’s a universal activity that evens the playing field, regardless of a player’s physicality or age,” says Lauren Werkiser, Design Director at Morgan Properties. The smaller court and the paddles rather than rackets are among the reasons. “We’ve been converting old tennis and basketball courts to pickleball courts for years, even prior to the pandemic. It’s nice to see a younger audience now embracing the game and all generations get to enjoy the sport together.”
Listening to residents’ needs is paramount and can help begin an amenity conversion process. Residents were looking for spaces to work from home—take calls and video meetings—outside of their homes, says Werkiser. So much so that they converted storage rooms and saunas into lounges and conference spaces. Clubroom and lobby interior design changed, “and we’re thoughtfully incorporating spaces and furniture residents can use for work.
Prior to the pandemic, the focus was more social and driven by entertainment. We haven’t lost sight of this approach, but we’re listening to the needs of our customers. Residents will go out when they want to be social or entertained, but they’re staying in for work.” Kassing says they look at amenities to boost resident satisfaction, and by adding items and additional programming, fireplace lounges and bocce courts, they can take an underutilized space and bring it back to life. “Amenities can be beautifully designed, but they are only a vessel for resident relaxation, socialization or productivity. Spaces are most successful when they are supported by operational programming: cooking classes, pickleball leagues, fitness training sessions, wine tastings, pop-up shopping experiences in partnership with local boutiques or live music performances on the pool deck.”
Another underused space, especially in a more urban setting, is parking. Silver says storage is a result for those spaces—an amenity that would be put to better use than parking at more urban locations and be a revenue-generator for owner-operators. Parking can also be transformed into pet areas. “For developments in areas with inclement weather, covered space for residents to take their furry loved ones during a weather event is a great benefit. This conversion comes with a cautionary tale, though, as improved ventilation and fresh air exchange is a must,” says Silver.
Tamez is also carving out more work-from-home locations. In San Diego, he redesigned a fitness center to add three “Zoom rooms” with different options. One is a quiet room that can hold two people; another is a small room that can be used for video calls; and the third room is like the second, only larger. “Being able to pivot is important. You can’t set a design three years ago and not be able to move as the market moves,” says Tamez. Pickleball courts aren’t the only amenities being added to Optima communities. They are also converting movie theaters into conference rooms and work-from-home areas. Farther south in Old Town Scottsdale, Optima is flipping a racquetball court into a golf simulator. “At Optima, it’s very important for us to not only listen to our residents but anticipate their needs and offer amenities that fit their lifestyle,” says Hovey Jr.
Michael Miller is Managing Editor for NAA.