A $6 million pickleball palace and $300K to protect poodles from puddles? That’s Wichita. | Opinion

Every now and then, Wichita City Hall comes up with a spending proposal that is so blindingly preposterous that it leaves you wondering how anyone could seriously propose it.

At this week’s council meeting, they’ve got two, both related to parks.

The first and most absurd is doubling the cost of the pickleball palace planned for South Lakes Park, which is growing from an original city investment of $3 million to $6.1 million.

The other is $300,000 for improvements to the K-9 Rooster Dog Park at Meridian Park.

To say we have bigger problems to deal with would be the understatement of 2023.

We have hundreds of streets and bridges that need major attention, flood-prone neighborhoods on the south side, a homeless crisis downtown that’s completely out of control, firefighters who need raises, an ice center that needs a new chiller and a convention and performing arts center that needs long-deferred maintenance, just to name a few issues that should be on the agenda far ahead of pickleball.

When the pickleball palace was first proposed, it was promised that $3 million would build us a state-of-the-art facility, with 16-20 high-quality courts and grandstands that would make Wichita the pickleball capital of America.

Now, the city proposes to build a 24-court complex at twice the cost. And that’s just Phase One. Phase Two, indoor courts, will cost even more.

The matter was discussed, briefly, at the Friday City Council agenda review.

Council member Bryan Frye raised a couple of good questions: Can we afford this in the first place, and if we can, what kind of return can we expect economically now that the price tag is more than doubling.

The answer was there’s never been a financial analysis done. But the council will be bringing in someone from Visit Wichita to bolster the Parks Department’s hopeful speculations.

Mayor Brandon Whipple tried to explain the choice to the voters and taxpayers: “I think some of the discussion was, do we want to just create opportunities for folks to play pickleball, or do we want to kind of go all-in and create basically a tournament-level, high-quality type (facility), not just pickleball, but a potentially economic development-type attraction to bring folks here for these tournaments?”

I think I join most Wichitans when I say, Mr. Mayor, we’d prefer the first option, the one about making places for people to play — and that City Hall stop wasting our money on a grandiose scheme that’s on its way to being 100% over budget and isn’t backed up by a single shred of credible evidence.

According to a Morning Consult poll, 15% of U.S. adults have played pickleball at least once — compared to 58% who have played tennis.

That same poll showed two-thirds of adults, including 61% of sports fans, said they are not interested in watching pickleball on TV or via a streaming provider.

With that kind of profound spectator disinterest, $6.1 million for the pickleball palace is way too much — although it might get Wichita exposure on ESPN 8: The Ocho (Google it).

Before I run out of space for this column, let’s have a few words about that $300,000 for improvements to the dog park.

Let’s set aside for a moment that there are several neighborhoods in Wichita that have been waiting for years to get a dog park at all.

The spending on the K-9 Rooster Dog Park improvements is being justified by a staff report saying: “Currently, the dog park lacks shade and contains areas that collect and retain water, which can make using the dog park challenging at times.”

That’s actually kind of funny, coming from the same Parks Department that spent millions to cut down the shade trees in Naftzger Park to put in plastic grass, and called it an improvement.

As for areas that collect and retain water, I would point out that I have yet to meet the dog that doesn’t like playing in puddles.

If you want to do something useful, put in a hose to wash the mud off them when they’re done and save $299,500 of that $300,000 for something this community and its residents actually need.