Pay to play is now the rule at the Lucas County Recreation Center, where $40 has become the new going rate for an hour on a tennis court.
Until Monday, when the prices went into effect, the six concrete tennis courts in the northeast corner of the county-owned facility in Maumee were entirely free for public use. Similar use fees could soon be added to the center's handball courts and basketball hoops, officials said.
The new rates are already having an effect on some longtime users of the tennis courts. Ron Rightnowar, athletic director of Toledo Christian Schools, said his girls tennis team is looking for a new practice place because the rec center's courts are too pricey.
"We can't possibly afford what they're charging," Mr. Rightnowar said.
The pricing plan is the work of the rec center's new management, LineDrive Sportz, a Sterling
Heights, Mich., firm that took over some operations last year after county commissioners voted to lease more of the rec center's grounds to save money.
Al Seeger, site manager for LineDrive Sportz, said he started the $40-an-hour fee yesterday, after adding chain locks to the tennis courts on Friday to make the pay rule enforceable.
Fees could begin for the eight handball courts once he meets with the Toledo Handball Club to discuss rates.
Mr. Seeger said the playing fees allow LineDrive Sportz to operate and maintain the rec center, which is no longer subsidized by the county.
The revenues also allow the company, which specializes in sports equipment sales, to upgrade the rec center's facilities.
Since taking over, LineDrive Sports has made more than $100,000 in improvements, including new stadium sprinklers, upgrades to Recreation Hall II, a new batting cage, and field work to the softball and football playing fields, Mr. Seeger said. Building an ice rink is under consideration.
"It's going to be years before we make any money in this place because of what we're investing," Mr. Seeger said. "It's not like we're trying to rake it in hand over fist."
The county had been losing about $100,000 a year running the rec center grounds on its own before reaching this lease agreement last June, County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said yesterday, adding that the rec center needed about $1.3 million in capital improvements.
The agreement was with the Mid-American Masters Baseball League, a nonprofit organization that already leased the county's Ned Skeldon Stadium. The league in turn subleased most of the rec center grounds - including Recreation Hall II but not Ned Skeldon Stadium - to for-profit LineDrive Sportz.
The Toledo Volleyball Club currently leases Recreation Hall I from the county.
Mr. Ujvagi said the county was aware when signing the lease that LineDrive Sportz could start charging to use facilities such as the tennis courts that have long been free.
"We didn't know how much but we knew they were going to start charging fees," he said.
The county is to receive one-half of the annual income that LineDrive Sportz makes from the rec grounds, up to $25,000 a year, according to the five-year contract.
Although County Commissioner Ben Konop joined his fellow commissioners last year in approving the contract, he criticized LineDrive Sportz yesterday for charging so much for an hour of tennis. He said he is concerned about residents being priced out of playing.
"It just seems to me to be way out of line with a family's recreational budget," Mr. Konop said. "You're talking $80 to play a [two-hour] game of tennis, and these aren't Wimbledon facilities here."
County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak defended the county's decision to lease the rec center grounds. She said the county at the time was facing a worsening budget situation, and that bringing in LineDrive Sportz allowed the county to keep the rec center open while redirecting financial resources.
If an operator hadn't stepped forward, the rec center may have closed, she said.
"I fought hard to find a partner who would help us keep it open," said Ms. Wozniak, daughter of the late Ned Skeldon, a past county commissioner who was largely responsible for the return of the Mud Hens minor league baseball team to Toledo in 1965 after a 10-year absence.
Of the tennis courts fee, Ms. Wozniak said:
"Ultimately these are the decisions that they [LineDrive Sportz] have to make in order to keep the facility open. The thought is that the users pay for this facility - not the general public."
Mr. Seeger also defended the $40 playing fee, comparing it to the cost of an hour in a batting cage - "If you check around that's kind of a going rate thing."
He said that most of the feedback regarding the new pay rules has been supportive, with a few exceptions.
"Everybody that we've talked to so far now has been very understanding," Mr. Seeger said.
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