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Elings Park Board Fires Back at Tennis Players Raising Racket Over Fee Hikes

Elings Park Foundation board members gathered Thursday at the Las Positas Tennis Courts to defend recent fee hikes to help pay for future improvements to sustain the complex.

Danny Vickers, executive director of the nonprofit organization, said a news conference was called in response to some members of the tennis community who have publicly lashed out about increases in annual membership fees to use the six courts on the north end of Elings Park at 1298 Las Positas Road.

The City of Santa Barbara, which used to operate the courts, previously charged $150 a year for unlimited tennis access. With 150 members, that equated to an individual cost of about $2.88 per week, and a total of $22,500 a year in revenues, according to the foundation.

The foundation took over control of the tennis courts in 2010 at the request of city officials, who said the courts had been operating at a significant annual deficit and also needed $1.1 million in capital improvements, according to foundation board member Bruce Giffin.

While the partnership eliminated the burden to taxpayers — the foundation rents the space, an old landfill, from the city for $1 a year — foundation members last year realized that even with donations, current fees could not continue at the same level to sustain the park.

Elings’ fees for unlimited tennis play were adjusted last year and are now $25 a month for seniors and $41 a month for adults. Day passes are $8 — the same as the city. Kids are never turned away.

“The big reason we had the conference is because the opposition has continued to put negative articles in the news,” said Vickers, noting that the foundation hadn’t spoken out on the issue until Thursday. “They don’t want the fees to go up. They don’t want the city to let it go. The city has said they don’t have the money.”

Elings Park has begun cleaning up the facility, and big plans are in the works for its restoration.

In a 13-page report submitted to the Santa Barbara City Council in February, the foundation outlines plans to begin raising $2.5 million to restore the complex and to set up an endowment to support Las Positas into the future.

The goal is to raise $1.5 million before actual construction begins sometime next year, according to the report. Fundraising and construction are expected to be complete by December 2014.

“Our goal is to generate about $60,000 per year in membership fees and at least $60,000 in program and event revenues,” the report states. “Once the renovation is complete, we believe that $120,000 per year in revenue is an achievable goal with six courts.”

For the facility to make money, Vickers said, the complex must be restored so that organizations can offer programming. So far in 2013, the park has 47 members, and Vickers expects more as the weather warms up.

He said he thinks the issue for tennis players is less about the fees, which aren’t as high as at other local clubs, and more about wanting control of the complex.

“We still have a lot of people playing,” Vickers said, “and we think we will be back to 2012 levels by April.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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