Lodi man serves up big vision, but tennis complex denied – Lodi News-Sentinel

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Plentiful sunshine. High around 70F. Winds light and variable..
Clear skies. Low 37F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: February 9, 2022 @ 12:56 pm

For the last several months, Jacob Neal has presented plans for a multi-court tennis complex to the Lodi City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission during the public comment portions of meetings.
Last week, Neal had his first chance to formally introduce his idea to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
And while commissioners admired his passion for the sport and his effort to bring such a complex to Lodi, commissioners said there wasn’t a need, and the city could not afford it.
“I applaud you’re enthusiasm, you have the passion and you’ve done research,” Commissioner Bret Erickson said during the Feb. 1 meeting.
“But what I was finding, is when you started telling people about you’re idea, a lot of people were behind it and supportive of it,” she said. “But I feel like the Lodi community still knows very little about the lack of funding parks and rec has, and how much we are behind on our maintenance and our projects that need replacing.”
Neal, a former tennis star at Lodi High School and now a coach there, promised the commission in November that he would bring a petition with 50 signatures supporting his idea to last week’s meeting.
He said he was able to get 142 Lodians to sign his petition, as well as 42 people from other areas of the county.
“This project means something very special to me, as I grew up playing tennis and its opened many doors for me,” he said. “And I want to give back to the community. I’ve gathered a lot of support from the community and it’s only grown. My goal is to make tennis popular again here in Lodi and help the youth engage in a lifetime sport that has endless opportunities.”
Neal proposed a facility featuring eight courts to be used for junior tennis programs, adult leagues for men and women, as well as a variety of regional and state tournaments.
While no location had been selected, Neal proposed a few locations for placing the complex, including DeBenedetti Park.
Neal said the complex could generate $45,705 in revenue for the city, with $17,150 coming from fees to use the facility on a general basis, $36,000 from lessons and programs, and $2,500 from visitors staying in hotels who want to play tennis in town.
Unlike other sports, Neal said, tennis can be played at all ages, and if played for just a few hours a week, can help prevent heart disease and weight gain, as well as help players cope with stress.
He added that tennis is one of the more inclusive sports in the world, can be adapted for those with mental or social disabilities, those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, stroke survivors, and those on the autism spectrum.
“There is a massive need for a tennis complex in Lodi,” he said. “With Twin Arbors (tennis club) closing, the city has lost half of its courts. My team last year at Lodi High had two kids come out for tryouts. Tokay (High School) facing the same issue. Tennis has dropped down due to the facilities and effort for growth here in the city.”
And while there are existing courts at Kofu, Legion and Peterson parks, Neal said the facilities are either vandalized by skateboarders or are in disrepair.
Erickson said there was not an immediate need for a tennis complex, citing several city parks — which are free to use — are in dire need of replacement equipment.
“Yes tennis is a benefit, and would be wonderful if more students took an interest,” she said. “But we have English Oaks Park, that literally has no playground because city can’t afford to replace it. At that level, we’re not even providing kids in that area a place to play and exercise. We need to meet those needs before we look at a sport that involves training and equipment.”
Commissioner Mike Carouba said while some of the properties Neal had suggested for the facility are vacant and spacious, they are either designated for certain use, or not available to the city for purchase.
He added even if the properties were available, the asking price would be somewhere in the millions of dollars, of which the city does not have.
“I think the issue at hand is that tennis has been a declining sport in Lodi, which is a demographic shift,” he said. “It’s not good or bad, it just is. I’ve seen for a number of years, our tennis courts not being used, and probably for a number of reasons. We need to uncover the need and try to meet it. You’re trying to create the need, in the sense if we had better facilities more people would try it if they want to try it, and there’d be more people.”
Commissioner Aaron VanNortwick, a former tennis player himself, said Neal was taking an approach similar to the classic Kevin Costner film “Field of Dreams,” where his character believes if he builds it, “they will come.”
VanNortwick suggested Neal volunteer with Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services to expand the current tennis program and attract more residents to the sport before considering a larger complex.
“It’s a struggle in Lodi,” he said. “We have a lot of people with a lot of great things. Yeah, we would love to have that, but we don’t have the money. And like Commissioner Erickson said, we don’t have the facilities to do that, or to take care of what we’ve got now.”
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