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Members of the Bemidji Area Tennis Association purchased a nine-acre site Feb. 15 for a future home of a two tennis court facility along Highway 71 North across from Lazy Jack. Shown above, members have a friendly game at the site, Jim Rafferty received the honors of the first serve. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Group moves closer to new indoor tennis facility

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Minnesota winters tend to be long, especially for those who love tennis.

Prior to 2009, Bemidjians could play tennis indoor at CBS Fitness or Bemidji State University.

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But with the loss of CBS Fitness and scheduling challenges at BSU, Bemidji Area Tennis Association (BATA) members started discussing an indoor facility owned and operated by its members.

"We were lucky to have BSU to use," organizer Paul Swartwood said.

"The facility we are looking at will have the same abrasiveness coatings on the courts to match those at the Bemidji Middle School and High School courts. This gives a transition from indoor to outdoor where you don't notice the ball speed difference."

In June 2010, the group began fundraising, allowing the BATA to close Feb. 15 on nine acres at 1336 Lakewood Drive Northwest along Highway 71 North, across from Lazy Jacks.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board approved a conditional use permit for them to build an indoor tennis facility.

According to Swartwood, BATA's indoor tennis facility will be available to the public for an hourly court fee. A simple registration process will be required and there will be no monthly membership fee.

Magnetic key cards will allow players to access the facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Court reservations will be done online or on the telephone. The facility will be maintained and operated by BATA volunteers.

"We learned a lot about cash flow when we leased the courts at CBS, so we decided to pursue a more conservative two court facility for phase one that will insure financial success and survival," Swartwood said.

The association would ideally like a four court facility.

With the property purchase, now BATA members plan to focus on raising more than $600,000 to build a facility with two courts and bathrooms.

As part of the fundraising effort, BATA will host a fish fry March 29 at the American Legion in Bemidji. The group also plans to other fundraisers, including the Paul Bunyan Communications Walleye Fry and QuickStart Tennis Demo Day on May 23. On June 9, BATA's Indoor Tennis Gala at the Sanford Center will offer a dinner, live music, silent auction and presentation on the indoor tennis project. There's also the third annual Slam-A-Thon fundraiser set for Aug. 1.

The group also is accepting private donations. To find out more, visit online at www.bemidji.usta.com. or call (218)-835-8122. You can follow the progress on Twitter (search Bemidji Area Tennis).

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