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  Pickleball debate continues as work commences at the Craneway Pavilion
February 26, 2024

Pickleball debate continues as work commences at the Craneway Pavilion

Linda Hemmila
Linda Hemmila
Feb 26, 2024 — 5 min read
Pickleball debate continues as work commences at the Craneway Pavilion
Equipment and materials visible in Richmond's Craneway Pavilion have community members debating pickleball once again. Photos/ Linda Hemmila.

The sight of materials and workers at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion last week once again resulted in sparing on social media as residents continue to argue over what is in store for one of the city’s most historic buildings.

According to Mayor Eduardo Martinez’s chief of staff, Shiva Mishek, the city still has yet to receive paperwork from the PB Development Group outlining its new plan. However, the group has posted online about its intent to open pickleball courts at Richmond’s historic Craneway Pavilion, possibly as soon as next month.

“Last I spoke to the City Attorney’s Office (last week), nothing submitted yet— just a vague comment from Orton that he may apply for the restaurant use permit, which is allowed under our municipal code and would make it 70 percent restaurant and 30 percent pickleball,” Mishek said.

Orton Development
 leases the Craneway from the City of Richmond and contracts with “operators” who run their businesses in the 100-year-old building. Orton Development could not be reached for comment.

Last October, southern California-based PB Development Group filed a new project plan with the City of Richmond, but the paperwork was incomplete. The group withdrew a previous plan in July of 2023 after state regulators shot it down, stating the proposed private pickleball facility “did not fit within the meaning of visitor-serving retail.”

City of Richmond's E-Trakit electronic permit system.

Richmond’s local municipal code, along with the regulations from the State Lands Commission, have the final say as to what can and cannot be permitted at the historic building. Activities such as pickleball are permissible at the Craneway but can only occupy 30 percent of the space. According to the California State Lands Commission, Craneway Pickleball cannot be used as a private club. While a small number of courts can be offered, 70 percent of the space must be used for something other than pickleball.

A statement on Craneway Pavilion’s social media says the “Craneway Pavilion will be reopening as a sports-themed event space that includes food and beverage service, pickleball, ping pong, billiards, and more.” Another post on Eastbay Pickleball Association’s Facebook Page says Craneway Pickleball is hoping for a mid-March opening and will be "fee-based, not membership."

Grandview Independent
 reached out to Rachel Hong of PB Development for a comment and has not yet received a reply.

Posting in a Richmond Facebook group, a gathering of locals argue the materials seen in the building are flooring being installed as part of the plan to create a private pickleball club, a sport they say is about privilege and is aimed at “entitled people.”

“Omg. I thought this wasn’t happening,” Mimi Kay wrote. “It is not a good place for a pay-to-play wiffle tennis club for entitled people. Why can’t they build their own building and leave our historic community spaces to the community?”

“Athletic flooring being installed at this moment in the Craneway, for what will soon be the Richmond Pickleball HQ. Let the new chapter of this historic building begin… I guess,” said Andrew Butt. “Ironic that Mayor Eduardo and the RPA have brought the ultimate gentrifiers to Richmond.”

David Ernst wrote, "This is all driven by an organization out of Marin that wants an exclusive pay-to-play club for the latest fad, but does not want the noise, traffic, and riff-raff associated with the activities marring their own community."

“The flooring for the Pickleball courts is sitting in the Craneway right now. They are about privilege,” Pat Dornan wrote. "They think they can do what they want even though they’ve been told by the state commissions no and no. They’re such arrogant individuals.”

In an interview with Grandview last year, Darlene Rios Drapkin, a Pickleball Ambassador with the East Bay Pickleball Association, rebuffed the notion of pickleball being an elitist sport.

“Pickleball is good for Richmond on every level. It’s for the rich, poor, young, and old; it’s complete diversity,” Drapkin said. “It’s very easy to learn, and the equipment is low cost.”

Drapkin has been working to bring pickleball courts to Richmond for some time and said it’s been a challenge.

“There are 1,000 players on pickleball email lists, of which possibly 25 -30 percent are Richmonders and West County [residents]. Richmond has the only dedicated courts in West County. This doesn’t include all youth who have been learning pickleball through a collaboration of EBPA with WCCUSD/Ed fund,” Drapkin said.

Drapkin also says more pickleball courts are needed and would definitely be used if installed.

“City Council member McLaughlin supports LaShonda White in the notion of multi-purposing many tennis courts in Richmond for both tennis and pickleball. Pickleball is social, and courts are better together,” Drapkin said. “The City of Richmond Parks & Recreation insists on only two dedicated pickleball courts instead of the six. There are 20 other public tennis courts in Richmond, plus several tennis courts in disrepair at Kennedy and Richmond High Schools.”

For now, Richmond residents are waiting to see what will become of their beloved Craneway Pavilion, and city officials are waiting along with them. Mishek said the city would confer with the State Lands Commission once they received a completed application from PB Pickleball.

“The City Attorney’s Office is drafting another letter to the State Lands Commission, to be sent when we actually get an application,” Mishek said.

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