Over the past year there has been talk among various Northwoods residents about the potential for building an indoor tennis facility so that the sport can be enjoyed year-round.
“I know that in speaking with people in the community I have been told that efforts to create an indoor tennis facility has been talked about over the last couple of decades,” Ed Nakhla, Minocqua resident, said. “It would make a contribution to people’s well-being, no question about that.”
As a tennis enthusiast, Nakhla is one of the indoor tennis facility organizers and is doing his part by asking around the Lakeland area to find out what residents think of the idea. So far, according to Nakhla, the idea has received a warm reception.
“Of the folks I spoke with, nobody made any commitments as far as making payments or didn’t necessarily guarantee that they would get a membership, but they have expressed an interest in supporting a facility like that,” Nakhla said.
Not only has he been reaching out to the community for their thoughts on the project, but he also heard from a “very reputable” organization that could provide a chance for people of all ages and skill levels to play tennis locally and on a state and national level.
“I’ve made a contact with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) who has identified Minocqua as an area that could be a hub for creating area leagues,” Nakhla said. “So all of a sudden what you could have here is opportunity for players from [the Northwoods] to participate in an inter-community league.”
USTA supports those of any age who are interested in tennis to pursue the sport.
“USTA really includes all ages. They have a program to help kids that are younger than 10 years old to play tennis by using special rackets, balls and court sizes,” Nakhla said. “So you could play tennis from age 4 to 104.”
Forming a USTA league would open the door for competing around the country.
“All of a sudden a person could plan their vacation around their love for tennis,” Nakhla said. “If they’re going to be in, say, South Carolina in March, they could plan to compete in a USTA competition taking place at a local hotel or resort.”
This possibility of being a part of USTA could also be a plus for the local economy.
“Conversely, local hotels here could also benefit by us inviting players from different parts of the state.”
As of Oct. 17, he and a few volunteers had already amassed an impressive list of interested residents. In 15 days, 72 names of those who were in support of the facility were collected.
“For two weeks to come up with 72 names is a very strong indication that the community is really ripe for this type of facility.”
Because the nearest indoor tennis courts are in Wausau, there are at least three groups of tennis players in Minocqua who “would love to continue to play during the winter” and not have to put the miles on their vehicles to do that.
And that’s just in Minocqua. That’s not including the tennis groups from surrounding communities, Nakhla said.
“Earlier this morning I got a phone call from a local doctor who is very enthusiastic about this,” Nakhla said. “He said that he and his son would very much be interested in the facility. They travel to Wausau on a weekly basis during the winter to play tennis.”
Overall, 11 of those 72 names he collected were from Rhinelander who would be more than willing to travel to Minocqua to enjoy the sport, Nakhla added.
An indoor tennis facility could also have a positive impact on Lakeland Union High School.
“There’s some people who are in touch with the tennis program at the high school who also mentioned to me that there may be opportunities to partner with the high school and offer tennis year-round,” Nakhla said.
And by discussing the possibility of the facility with community members, Nakhla has heard from some who would be willing to go beyond just getting a membership.
“Of the 72 names that I heard from, a couple of them are instructors – people who would be willing to give lessons, people who would be willing to volunteer at this facility. So we could conceivably have low- to no-cost from a staff perspective.”
Though planning is in its earliest stages, Nakhla outlined three possible business opportunities to make the indoor tennis facility a reality.
“Idea number one would be either a golf course, resort or hotel slash indoor tennis facility,” Nakhla said. “I’m talking to existing businesses who potentially might have an interest in bringing in an indoor tennis facility.”
The second proposal is to partner with the town of Minocqua.
“Based on budgetary constraints right now, as I’m told by the chairman, the only possibility there would be for this partnership is for the town of Minocqua to provide the land and for a group of investors or club members to figure out a way to set up a building.”
The third proposition is a similar concept to a private country club.
“Idea number three would be for a group of private parties, anywhere between 50 people and 100 people, to come up with a sum of money to set up the structure and to own it,” Nakhla described.
However, if idea number three were to take place, public membership would not be a guarantee – it would be up to the owners.
“I’m more optimistic about option one, [a business partnership with a resort or golf course], or some variation of it and less optimistic about two or three, but we’re looking at all viable options,” Nakhla said.
As for the time frame of the project, it’s difficult to say but Nakhla has some idea of when this project could potentially begin.
“I would say that based on conversations that I’m having with local business owners and investors, there’s a 50/50 chance that something could happen next year,” he said. “The odds for something to happen obviously would increase as we build interest.”
The location of the facility is also up in the air.
“There are some locations and they are all very easily accessible in the city limits of Minocqua, but nothing is set in concrete,” Nakhla said. “I’m not at liberty to identify any in particular right now, but they would be centrally located.”
With the indoor tennis facility still in early planning stages, Nakhla is interested in input from the community on the project.
“People are creative and they can identify needs. Some of the needs I heard about was to combine it with an area for people to walk or jog around the perimeter in the coldest of winter.”
Other ideas include setting up a golf and tennis proshop, having a food service station or grill in the facility and providing locker rooms for men and women.
Since he started asking around the Lakeland area, interest for the facility has been growing, Nakhla said.
“It’s a grassroots movement. It’s building up and every couple of days I hear from somebody who’s really enthusiastic about this idea, so it’s been very, very exciting from that perspective.”
And based on the responses he has received, Nakhla is confident that an indoor tennis facility would be a good fit for the Northwoods.
“I think the area is really crying out for something like that, but it has to be done right,” Nakhla said. “I just want to encourage the community to take a serious look at this because there seems like a good demand for it.”
To learn more about the indoor tennis facility or to show your support, email Nakhla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at email@example.com