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Fundraising under way for indoor tennis facility

The Bemidji Area Tennis Association is raising money that would fund the construction of a new indoor tennis facility.

The building would initially feature two indoor tennis courts with the potential of adding on another two courts later, if deemed appropriate.

It would be located in North Country Park, a yet-to-be-developed park along 30th Street Northwest that is planned to also host the relocated Carrington Field, play areas and trails.

The city has agreed to lease to BATA 2 acres in the 18-acre North Country Park.

The park was made possible due to a donation of land from North Country Health Services. NCHS was required to dedicate 4.3 acres of parkland due to its Nielson Place expansion, but decided to give the city 18 acres to cover all future parkland dedication requirements of development.

Paul Swartwood, the president of BATA, said the park has become a nice community partnership.

"We're excited to be a part of it," he said.

The cost of the indoor tennis facility is expected to range from $750,000 to $1 million. BATA started fundraising in June. The United States Tennis Association will provide a grant for up to $60,000 of the cost. Pledges, donations and grants will be used to secure a construction loan.

BATA has been able to use USTA's knowledge and experience to develop a plan for the Bemidji indoor tennis facility, Swartwood said. The USTA is helping with 154 similar building projects underway throughout the country.

"They know how to build tennis courts," he said.

The current plan is for a hard structure that would have two tennis courts, locker rooms, lobby/reception area and an observation deck.

It also would feature a high-efficiency heating system based on a similar system at the tennis facility in White Bear Lake, Minn.

"They can heat a four-court facility for less than I heat my house," Swartwood said.

Why now?

The need for an indoor tennis facility became apparent in December once the CBS Fitness building was no longer available.

BATA had been renting the court at CBS for a couple of years.

But the bank last year listed the building for sale, and while BATA attempted to buy it, it ultimately was sold to Steve and Pat Vosika, who used the 3.5-acre site to build a new Bemidji Bowl.

"CBS was a great case study for us," Swartwood said.

Through the CBS partnership, BATA was able to examine rental fees and usage.

Swartwood believes the new building would charge a flat entrance fee (based on court reservations). Players would utilize a keyless entry system, similar to that used at Anytime Fitness, to gain entry to the building, so on-site staff would not be needed 24/7.

"We're very confident that with a two-court facility, we'd operate in the black," he said.

It is "prudent," he said, to hold off on plans for four courts until demand and revenue justify the additional operating costs.

BATA has about 250 registered players from 17 area communities. There are an estimated 2,000 tennis players in the Bemidji area.

Nationally, tennis is seeing an increase in popularity. From 2000-2007, tennis playing increased by more than 30 percent, according to the SGMA Sports and Fitness Participation Report.

Want to help?

Anyone wishing to donate to the project is asked to send pledges or donations to BATA, P.O. Box 694, Bemidji, MN 56619.

Those seeking more information may call Swartwood at 218-835-8122.