Hell’s Kitchen Park to get new pickleball court, prompting mixed community board reactions

A Parks Department presentation for a renovation project at Hell’s Kitchen Park on Thursday night turned into a heated referendum on the trendy racquet sport, pickleball.

The agency is targeting the park for a largely standard renovation project, which involves repaving and repainting the courts, with the exception of one new feature — the installation of a brand-new pickleball court.

During a presentation of the plan to the Community Board 4 Waterfront Parks and Environmental committee, some members found the prospect of pickleball objectionable, prompting a rebuttal from other members of the board who have been asking the Parks Department for more pickleball amenities. It’s one of a series of incidents where pickleball devotees and allies have squared off with the sport’s detractors.

Parks’ plan for the renovation involves replacing the asphalt on two worn out practice basketball courts, repainting the park’s handball courts and converting what is now a volleyball area to a pickleball court. The agency will install a six-foot fence to stop stray balls from bouncing between the pickleball and basketball courts.

Community Board 4 member and former Assembly candidate Chris LeBrón was the first to weigh in against the new racquet sport, asserting that it would not last the test of time. LeBrón insisted Parks move benches that it had planned to place around the basketball court to the pickleball area because it was not a “mobile sport.”

“What happens when pickleball dies? How quickly can this fence be taken down so that the area can be utilized for an alternative use?” Lebrón demanded.

Shortly after, another member questioned Parks’ decision to include a pickle ball court, suggesting that the sport was not amenable to children.

“There’s a lot of kids in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of schools around here. This is a popular park and I think more utilization for children’s sports would be great,” said committee member Catie Savage

But the initial resistance to pickleball was matched by supporters. Leslie Boghosian Murphy, the committee’s co-chair, thanked the department for including pickleball after members of the committee previously decided that there was a need for it in the neighborhood.

“The area isn’t just populated by children, it’s mixed people, adults, old people, children and, I think people are asking for pickleball,” added committee member Sally Greenspan.

Katherine Hedden, a zealous Manhattan pickleball advocate who was tuning into the meeting also took the opportunity to defend her sport.

“It’s not a sport where you stand still,” said Hedden, insisting that the courts should not be surrounded by benches. 

“The other misnomer is that youth in the neighborhood would not play,” citing a youth pickleball league nearby.

Hedden’s spirited comments prompted Boghosian Murphy to cut her off insisting that the presence of the court was a given and that the committee was merely weighing in to tweak Parks’ plans.

Later in the meeting Parks Department also briefed the committee on its pursuit of alternate locations for a dog run after the board recently requested to close the kanine-designated area in Penn South Park. The agency said that it is considering replacing three of the six handball courts that are in Chelsea Park with a new dog area, and wanted to ask the committee’s preliminary opinion before moving forward with the plan. 

Though several committee members objected to removing the courts, the committee ultimately gave the agency the green light to come back with a more fleshed plan before weighing in further.