Wicomico Council Votes To Accept Grant For Pickleball Complex

SALISBURY – Plans for a pickleball complex in Salisbury will move forward following the county’s acceptance of a $700,000 state grant.

Following a lengthy public hearing Nov. 2, the Wicomico County Council voted 6-1, with Council President Larry Dodd opposed, to accept a $700,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to build a new pickleball complex at Harmon Field, an aging ballpark in Salisbury.

While the property is currently home to a baseball field and basketball court, officials say the plan is to construct a new playground, an additional basketball court and a 12-court pickleball complex at the site.

“To only have a couple courts available now is kind of ridiculous for the demand that is out there …,” Councilman Josh Hastings said. “This makes a lot of sense for this location.”

As proposed, the county is planning to fund the construction of the complex using a $700,000 grant through the state’s Local Parks and Playgrounds Infrastructure Bill, which requires no local match. The Salisbury YMCA, located next to Harmon Field, has also offered to donate $300,000 toward the project.

“This is a revenue generator,” said Councilman John Cannon. “No money down, nothing but rewards. To me, that’s about as easy as it can get.”

To that end, the council held public hearings on the acceptance of the $700,000 grant and $300,000 donation.

“I’m here today because I think this project is a no-brainer …,” said resident Scott Robertson, who was joined by several community pickleball players in advocating for a new complex. “If we had a nice facility like this, it’s going to bring in a lot of people to our community, that will stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants.”

Resident Josh West said more pickleball courts were needed, as there were only four exclusive pickleball courts throughout Wicomico County.

“We’re asking to take a field that is underutilized and serve a community that’s being underserved,” he said.

Representatives from the Delmarva Pony League, however, came out to oppose the project, noting the youth sports league had interest in using the ballfield for its games.

“We have a need for another field, another facility,” said Greg Ennis, the association’s president. “Right now, we are running 22 teams on one field playing six nights a week.”

Resident Wayne Parsons noted the use of Harmon Field would allow the league to grow its programs.

“We would like to expand what we can do with the young people of our county,” he said.

Others, however, argued the construction of a new complex would also benefit the community’s youth. Shawn Tucker, assistant men’s basketball coach at Salisbury University, said children and teens frequently used the existing basketball court at Harmon Field.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids and our youth,” he said. “If they build two courts as proposed, it’s a beautiful opportunity to continue the legacy that’s in Salisbury.”

During council comments, Councilwoman Nicole Acle questioned why the county couldn’t place pickleball courts at the West Metro Core, a county-owned property slated for park development.

“We have 100 acres at the West Metro,” she said. “It seems like that would be a perfect spot for not just pickleball, 12 to 16 courts, but you can also have two, three, four regulation basketball courts. I’m wondering why are we honing in on this baseball field when we have land that everyone can have what they want.”

Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Steve Miller noted Harmon Field was centrally located for potential pickleball tournaments and it was tied to the $300,000 YMCA donation.

“The YMCA isn’t going to partner and donate $300,000 if it were located on the west side of the county,” he replied.

Councilman Joe Holloway said he supported the construction of pickleball courts, but expressed concerns over the location.

“We have vast acreage of land in Wicomico County to build pickleball courts on without disturbing the ballfield,” he said.

Dodd agreed.

“This, to me, is one of the most fiscally irresponsible actions this council could do …,” he said. “There’s no need to destroy a perfectly good baseball field.”

McCain, however, said the ballpark at Harmon Field was rarely used. He added the recreation and parks department was willing to help the Pony League find another place to play.

“This is not about pickleball versus Pony League,” he said. “The proposal is a basketball and pickleball complex on the Harmon Field property.”

Turning the focus back on Dodd, Cannon told council members this week he was surprised to learn the council president had sent a letter to the state opposing the $700,000 grant.

“It shocks me when I see a council member, especially a president, Mr. Dodd, go to the state of Maryland unilaterally and undermine this county council, undermine the citizens of this county and the executive’s office and tells them do not send us that $700,000,” he said.

Dodd responded, “I sent them an email saying we’re not prepared for it at this time. That was several weeks ago … This was not put in front of us that they were asking for $700,000.”

Holloway and Acle said they would support the project, so long as Miller worked with the Pony League.

“I hope that you honor your word and find a place for them to play,” Councilman Ernie Davis added.

After the 6-1 vote to accept the grant, the council voted unanimously to support the YMCA contribution.

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.