Stew Lilker’s

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Economic Development Chief Brings World Class Tennis Players to Lake City: Will Tennis Be Next?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Monday night, the Lake City/Columbia County Tennis Committee met with Tourist Development Council (TDC) Director, Paula Vann. In operation for almost 2 years, the Committee, under the leadership of Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, is working to bring world class tennis to the area. On Monday night, people from four continents were introduced to Ms. Vann.

Mr. Hunter told the gathering that some board members of the TDC are interested in hearing how tennis could be brought to Lake City/Columbia County.

Ana Kharchenko keeps her eye on the conversation.

In addition to the members of the Tennis Committee, Mr. Hunter brought to the table three internationally known and respected tennis coaches, and two international tennis players.

Ms. Vann and the Committee had the opportunity to meet internationally ranked Ana Kharchenko of the Ukraine and now living in Florida.

Mr. Hunter introduced the gathering to Anjan Viplav.

Mr. Hunter said, "Anjan is looking to build some courts. These courts will be private courts, but in conjunction with what we could do here. It would be a big star up in the northern part of the state."

Mr. Viplav addressed the Committee, "I am from India. The most important thing is location. Lake City is about two or three hours away from major tennis areas. The geography is excellent. 19 tournaments are within your reach."

Mr. Viplav is leasing a tennis facility in Lake City. He continued, "I've been here for four months. It's a win-win for Lake City. The people here are bringing a lot of energy. We need to get tournaments set up, up here."

Economic Development Chief Hunter listens to Scott Pascal, along with Dolly Robinson and his son Travis.

Mr. Hunter introduced international tennis coach and entrepreneur, Scott Pascal. "I met Scott about six or eight weeks ago in Orlando. He's looking to invest in a very significant way in Columbia County."

Mr. Pascal told the committee, "I travel in different parts of the world. I've coached tennis for 30 years. I've coached players from 35 nations. I've got an interest to build a lodge -- housing for players. I have researched different parts of America. I can't say that Lake City was number one on my radar because there are so many great spots in Florida. As I researched Lake City I found a lot of potential here. My goal is building an Academy. I build the athletes that go out into the world. Will it be Lake City? I don't know. I'm still researching it. But I'm interested enough to come here. This town's captured my attention enough to where I would like to know more."

Tennis coach Scott Pascal listens to Ms. Vann.

Mr. Pascal continued, "When you have someone like Glenn who can spearhead it; when you have someone like Anjon coming here to run an academy. That's pretty special."

Committee member Dolly Robinson explained that tennis in Columbia County/Lake City has gone backwards. She said that 30 years ago there were 16 tennis courts.

Tom Sweitzer, National Tennis Pro of the Year, and the director of the Orlando Tennis Center came to Lake City. He explained expansion of tennis in Orlando and the positive impact that it is having on homebuilding and the local economy.

Mr. Sweitzer explained for a tennis program to be successful and to have tournaments "you've got to get up to at least 12 tennis courts and potentially 16 to 20.

TDC Director Vann Weighs In

TDC Director Paula Vann

While Ms. Vann came to listen, she explained, "Tourism that concentrates around the Ichetucknee and the areas springs is the biggest theme that draws people here, but it [sports] is a component."

Ms. Vann said that tennis is not going to happen overnight.

Scott Pascal added, "It could happen overnight. It really depends on leadership."

Ms. Vann said, "It could, but you need a plan."

"Not here to talk for 20 years. I'm ready to be an asset."

Mr. Pascal followed up, "I am recruited state wide right now. People are saying, 'Please come here, we'll give you this, this, and this.' My project is recruited in California and throughout Texas. I'm not here to talk for 20 years. For me, it's a matter of where is the land -- let me buy it -- let me build." If Lake City is one of those places, I'm ready to jump in. I'm ready to be an asset."

Ms. Vann asked, "My TDC board wants to know if you're asking for a million dollars."

Mr. Pascal answered, "I'm not asking for anything. I'm willing to pay a million dollars. I haven't asked for a piece of land. I haven't asked for courts. I'm an entrepreneur with a checkbook. I'm looking for a place that wants that kind of synergy."

He continued, "That's why I like Glenn. He's on the ball -- he's on point -- he's ready to go."

"A guy drives up from Orlando to talk about something that doesn't even pull to his city (Orlando). That says a lot. A guy who's here from India. You're going to want to wake up. There's a community here that wants tennis. Some of the best in the world are sitting in front of you and we all have a lot of other things we could have done with our day. So that can happen overnight if the leadership is ready to see how things can happen overnight."

Ms. Vann addressed Mr. Hunter, "Glenn, you have a public facility, too, that you're asking for. That's what we haven't been asked. What are you asking the TDC for?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "We're evolving. Our committee has been working on possibly 16 courts for about two years. We've got private investors who don't want to be on our property. We have people interested from all over the world that want to work in conjunction with us. We are not asking the TDC to fund Anjon or Scott. We are asking you to consider a public tennis facility that they can work in conjunction with."

Ms. Vann responded, "That really hasn't been said."

Mr. Pascal added, "You could have 64 WTA and ATP ranked players in this city every week coming from all over the world."

Ms. Vann asked, "You are that person to go out and recruit these people to come here?"

Mr. Pascal answered, "Pro players come to pro-tournaments. If I build it, they'll come."

Ms. Vann said, "There needs to be a plan to recruit those people. We have a sports marketing director."


Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter has been working on this project for almost two years along with some of the sharpest folks in the community.

The Tennis Committee will be making a presentation to the TDC in January. The County 5, Columbia County's deciders, needs to be there, listen, and ask questions.

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