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Economic Development Chief Perseveres
Delivers Winning Tennis Presentation to TDC 

Hunter opens up the Tennis Committee's presentation to a packed house yesterday afternoon.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter looked the other way after being bashed for the past 17 months by the hierarchy of the County and the local print newspaper. Yesterday afternoon, to a packed house, he presented his committee's report to the Tourist Development Council (TDC) on bringing world class tennis to Lake City/Columbia County.

The presentation by the Tennis Committee was a joint effort, as was the PowerPoint presentation. Mr. Hunter opened up the Committee presentation with a brief explanation and handed it over to Mike Null, an accomplished tennis player and long time Columbia County School District Administrator.

Mike Null wore his USTA hat for the meeting.

Mr. Null set up the presentation: "On October 15, 2014, a small group of us appeared before this board to talk about a tennis concept. Since that date, we've met 12 or 15 times. We had guests such as international players, Orlando professionals, tennis pros, tennis coaches, tennis directors, and interested tennis players to attend these meetings."

"There is a lot of interest in putting Lake City on the map as far as a tennis complex is concerned. Many of our tennis supporters are here today. Some of them I haven't seen in years."

Mr. Null explained that a Lake City/Columbia County Tennis Association was formed with longtime Lake City resident, Dolly Robinson, as president.

Mr. Null introduced Columbia County icon, the county's first tennis coach, school teacher of generations, and county commissioner, James Montgomery.

James "Mr. Mont" Montgomery

Mr. Montgomery began his three minute Columbia County tennis history section, which everyone knew would go way over three minutes, explaining, "When I was going to Columbia High School back in the late 40s, we had two tennis courts in Lake City. One of them was a concrete court, built by the Kiwanis club. Its net was a chain-link fence. That was good; you never had to change the net."

Mr. Montgomery said that in 1963, a year after he began teaching at the high school, he started the boys' tennis team. In 1968, Mr. Montgomery started the girls' tennis team. Then in the late 90s, the County and the School Board got together and built the current eight courts at the high school."

Over time, security and the court location made the courts inaccessible to the public.

Mr. Montgomery said that today in Lake City, "We're back where we started in the 40s, with two public tennis courts."

Each Committee Member Took a Turn at the Service Line

Committee member, Tom Moore, the coach of the boy's tennis team at Columbia High and a tennis instructor in White Springs, explained more of the benefits of tennis and the use of a backboard.

"Backboards allow tennis players to develop their skills," he said.

Committee member, Nelson Rivera, a nurse at the VA and the US Army told the group that tennis is a sport that works on all parts of the body and is good for mental health. "Tennis helps the quality of life," he said.

Tennis Pro Anjan Viplav

Tennis pro, Anjan Viplav, hails from India and has recently made his home in Lake City and taken over a tennis academy. He told the gathering: "I've been teaching tennis to professional tennis players for 15 years. It was my dream to open a tennis academy in Florida. I couldn't think of a better place than Lake City. The temperature in Lake City beats any tennis destination in Florida. You have 222 perfect tennis days."

Mr. Viplav explained that tennis is an international sport and Florida is the tennis capital.

Association President, Dolly Robinson

Dolly Robinson told the group that the Community Tennis Association (the official name is the Lake City Columbia Community Tennis Association) is a now a member of the United States Tennis Association.

She said, "We're definitely on the upward swing of the [tennis] cycle again." She said that tennis would provide a healthy environment for the children of Columbia County/Lake City.

Ms. Robinson concluded, "We don't have a river running through here. We don't have a beach. We have sports and we have people who are inclined to participate and support sports... We'd like your support."

Committee member Richard Johnson explained the structure of the Community Tennis Association and told the group that they were a non-profit. "This puts us in a better position to partner with the County and the City." He also mentioned that the non-profit status of the Committee allows them to apply for grants.

Mr. Johnson concluded, "We've met our obligation to make sure that our structure is in place where we can be an effective partner... and we certainly hope that you decide to support this effort."

City Manager Johnson listens to the presentation.

While not on the Committee's agenda, TDC Chairman, Commissioner Ronald Williams, asked Lake City's City Manager for a few words.

City Manager Johnson said he appreciated the value of tennis, and years ago, in the time of Rod Laver and Poncho Gonzales, he went to college on a tennis scholarship.

Mr. Johnson added, "If this County and this City create such a facility (the one proposed by Glenn Hunter and the Tennis Committee) they will come... I support strongly the City participating in some financial means to restore what we once had at Southside. Obviously, the game plan would be to apply it to something that would be more expansive and more beneficial."

Mike Null said that the County needed to have a facility that was large enough to attract major tournaments. "If it's undersized you can't attract major tournaments. You're either all in -- or you're not in... It's going to require a minimum of 24 courts to facilitate drawing in major tournaments."

Committee Chair Hunter spoke about the financials. "To build the facility would cost approximately $2.2 million dollars. Based on 10 tennis tournaments a year, Hunter said that using TDC formulas the proposed facility would generate $2 million."

Mr. Hunter said that he thought the facility would best be located at the County's Southside Sports Complex. There are others that believe there are better locations.

Planning for the Future

Hotel owner, Nick Patel

TDC member and hotel owner, Nick Patel, wanted to plan for the future. He said, "We need to have a five-year plan for sports development. The sports industry is real. It's helping us. It's bringing economic development. The County needs to step up with the City and develop a plan."

Mr. Patel explained that the TDC's hands were tied on the revenue side, as the County had maxed out the bed tax at the statutory limit of 5%.

Premium Courts at the High School

The 8 tennis courts at Columbia High could be used as satellite tournament courts.

Your reporter asked if anybody was working to make the 8 tennis courts at the high school available for public use.

Mr. Null responded, "That would probably be done by interlocal agreement with the County. If there is organized play where some entity is responsible, those courts could be made available, but not during the school day. If we start bringing in tournaments and events we are going to need extra courts, I feel that that course will be taken."

The Future

Ronald Williams (left) and Rusty DePratter

Chairman Williams said, "We (TDC) don't have the funds to help subsidize the construction of a tennis facility. We do have funds to run it after it is constructed."

He said that he couldn't speak for the other members of the County Commission or City Council, "but I think this is something we need to take hold of. You have given us a blueprint. We need to get it done."

Commissioner Rusty DePratter said, "I don't want to see this get held up. I think you should have alternate sites. I would like to see the breakdown of where you come up with $2.2 million. I think that's what everybody would like to have."

Mr. DePratter advised, "Don't get hung up on one spot. I know the County's already done that a couple of times."

He told the group that he was impressed with their effort and their presentation has put the project further down the road.


Late this morning, TDC Director Paula Vann summed up yesterday's meeting.

She told the Observer, "This was a positive meeting and the Tennis Committee came back with all the information we asked for."

Ms. Vann continued, "This would be good for Lake City/Columbia County and we are looking forward to moving ahead with the next steps of this proposed project."

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