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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017
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Clearwater tennis players call fault over darkened courts

CLEARWATER - In its efforts to cut costs, the city of Clearwater has turned the lights out for tennis and basketball players. Last week, city staff began making inoperable the lights at 28 outdoor basketball and tennis courts peppered throughout the city. The move is expected to save Clearwater $20,800 a year, city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said. "I just think the city is stupid," said Ray Moore, 57, a business consultant who has been using a tennis court at Coachman Ridge Park before daybreak. "They don't use common sense anymore." At the court Moore uses, players push a button to activate the lights for one hour and must push the button again before the hour is over to keep playing. If money is an issue, he asked, why doesn't the city install pay meters so players assume the costs?
And, he said, darkened courts are likely to draw vagrants and ne'er-do-wells. Residents still will have two facilities where they can play nighttime tennis, Castelli said. There is no cost to play at the Clearwater Beach Recreation Complex, which has three courts. Castelli said the lights will remain operable there because it is popular with tourists. The Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex, which has seven hard courts and eight clay courts, charges $3 an hour or a monthly membership fee. Moore estimates he would have to shell out $35 to $40 a week at the McMullen complex to do what he has done at Coachman Ridge Park without a fee. Moore doesn't believe he has been playing for free at Coachman Ridge Park, saying he already pays property taxes as a city resident. He suspects the decision to turn off the lights is intended to steer players to the McMullen complex to help support it financially. Castelli said the McMullen complex, which has about four employees, generates annual revenues of about $158,000 but has annual operating costs of about $324,000. Lights will remain operable at other sports facilities, such as soccer, football, softball and lacrosse fields, Castelli said. But in all those cases, the teams or leagues that play on the fields pay for the lights.

Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 815-1074.

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