Wicomico Eyes Grants To Develop New Pickleball Complex

SALISBURY – Officials this week outlined their plans to build a new pickleball complex in Salisbury.

On Tuesday, Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Steve Miller presented the Wicomico County Council with a plan to redevelop Harmon Field, an aging park on Church Hill Avenue in Salisbury.

“What we are proposing is a $1 million renovation to the site,” he said.

While the park was once a hub for recreational activities, including softball tournaments and youth programs, Miller told county leaders this week the property now sees very little use other than pickup basketball games.

“Over the last four years, excluding 2020, the field has seen 77 hours per year of organized play …,” he said. “One field at our athletic complex averages 1,100 hours of play.”

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To that end, Miller said he is proposing the construction of a new playground, an additional basketball court, and the development of a 12-court pickleball complex at the site.

“It’s a sport that literally anyone can play,” he said.

Miller told council members that the recreation and parks department fielded comments weekly from residents requesting new courts be built. Highlighting that demand, he said, were recent pickleball tournaments that attracted more than 100 participants from surrounding states to Wicomico County.

“Having this complex in this location would give us that opportunity to host major tournament events and bring revenue to the county,” he said.

Officials noted that the county would fund the project using a $700,000 grant through the state’s Local Parks and Playgrounds Infrastructure Bill with no local match. Miller added the remaining $300,000 would come through a public-private partnership with the YMCA, located next to the Harmon Field property.

“The county will maintain 100% control of the facility, and the county will maintain 100% control of the schedule for the facility …,” he said. “Any programs conducted by YMCA must be approved by us and open to the public.”

Miller told council members his most immediate request was a letter of support to accept the $700,000 grant, should it be approved.

“A million dollars is sitting on the table for us to renovate a 50-year-old park …,” he said. “Not one dime of local tax dollars is being requested.”

Councilwoman Nicole Acle, however, said citizens on the west side of Wicomico County were still awaiting the development of a park at the West Metro Core property. She questioned if the pickleball complex could be build there.

“The county bought 100 acres for them to have a park,” she said. “We have paid for two engineering studies. Those citizens still don’t have a park.”

Miller, however, noted Harmon Field was the most feasible option for the redevelopment project.

“If you were to propose doing this somewhere else, the YMCA is not going to kick in $300,000,” he said.

Councilman John Cannon said he supported Miller’s proposal.

“One does not preclude the other,” he told Acle. “You can work on a parallel course to get both done.”

Council President Larry Dodd also shared his concerns regarding the proposed project. He noted a local youth sports league – the Delmarva Pony League – had expressed interest in using Harmon Field for its ball games.

“They have 300 kids playing, and there’s only one baseball field,” he explained. “And there is a need for girls’ softball.”

Miller said he would work with the league to find a place to play.

“We’re happy to meet with them and work with them,” he said.

The council reached a consensus to send a letter in support of the $700,000 grant. Officials will hold a public hearing to consider the proposed agreement with the YMCA.

“We need to act now in letting the state know we are serious with this proposal,” Acting County Executive John Psota said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.