Environment fuck you friday

Fuck You Friday: Woods Tennis edition

Friends of Woods Tennis makes a nice bottle of whine out of their sour grapes

Friends of Woods Tennis (FOWT) have withdrawn their plans to further expand their facilities in Woods Park. The press conference, which featured mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, Parks and Recreation department director Maggie Stuckey-Ross, and FOWT president Todd Peterson, was a calm, gentle affair, with everyone expressing optimism and excitement at the prospect of Woods Tennis not having to compromise their long-term dreams of building a tennis fantasy island. Better still, the community and neighborhoods surrounding Woods Park now get to keep one of the city’s prominent community parks safe from further erosion at the hands of a certain “lifelong sport.” It’s a win-win for everyone.

But FOWT couldn’t leave well enough alone. Despite the fact that city leaders assisted their face-saving presser–which speaks to the degree of wealth and influence this group enjoys, as most people don’t get such hand-holding when their failed effort wilts under public sentiment–they updated their “open letter” on their website to cast themselves as victims again. To wit: 

“Throughout the process, our proposals have been met with resistance. We have maintained a spirit of collaboration/compromise but have not been met with the same. While we expected lively discussion from all sides, the treatment of our staff, patrons and facilities has been unexpected and disappointing.”

Spoken like a board of rich Lincolnites who aren’t used to not getting exactly what they want, isn’t it? Much like the insinuations they sent out to their email list that Woods Park: Keep It Green members who were demonstrating with signs at the park were likely domestic terrorists to be avoided while the police handle them (which we discussed already here), again we find these baseless accusations suggesting those opposed to their plans are something other than a cadre of peaceful, concerned citizens who know a reverse-NIMBY stunt when they see one. Indeed, several of us here at Seeing Red were present at the three meetings held by Parks and Rec regarding the Woods Tennis proposed expansion in March, and most of those who opposed the expansion also expressed appreciation for what Woods Tennis does, reflecting that they would be able to fully expand they way they’d like by looking for a new site more amenable to the large-scale events they would like to hold (a “regional park,” in the city’s parlance, as opposed to a “community park” like Woods). We also took down the names of those who testified in support, by the way, and looked up their addresses, only to find that the vast majority live outside of the “community park” service radius, just like the board members of FOTW that we addressed in our previous article on the situation.

FOWT’s open letter again insinuates that the surrounding neighborhood is now ready to tar and feather them in their next paragraph: “This move is not only best for our immediate Woods “family,” but for all players present and future, as well as the broader tennis community. It is incumbent upon us to provide an atmosphere that is safe, welcoming, and inclusive, with room to grow.” So if a neighborhood doesn’t consent to FOWT’s plans to bulldoze trees and take over a community park with their hobby, that neighborhood is not safe, welcoming, or inclusive? 

Later, they follow up with perhaps the strangest portion of their screed: 

“One of the things that has been misrepresented/misunderstood is the relationship between Friends of Woods Tennis and Lincoln Parks and Recreation. While FOWT is a private, non-profit organization, we are contracted by the City of Lincoln to bring tennis programming and opportunities to area residents of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. We are a 100% self-sustaining operation with a percentage of our revenue set aside for facility maintenance.” 

From what we’ve heard, we don’t think this is “misunderstood.” Opponents of their plan have pointed out that FOWT failed to raise the amount they needed for their last expansion, necessitating the city and county to bail them out for over $1 million to finish the project. They are self-sustaining the way a trust fund baby is self-supporting. 

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Then again, if one looks at their financial statements in terms of ordinary operation, it’s true that they’re self-sustaining. In fact, they might even be called…profitable? Let’s compare adult pricing with membership between Woods Tennis and Genesis Health Clubs, which operates a “racquet club” location in Lincoln. Woods recently took iterations of the word “membership” off their website, but “annual pass” rates still function much the same way as “membership,” reducing rates for court time. The Woods rates are somewhat better than Genesis, which is a fully commercial health club/gym chain in the Midwest, but when you consider they don’t have any land/rent costs, they’re not dramatically better.

Woods: adult membership is $29.75 (plus tax) a month, with 12th month free, which adds up to $327.25/yr, or you can just pay $310 plus tax/yr all at once. For that, you get free outdoor courts (which are almost always unused no matter the time of year), or $22/hour indoor courts. You can get lessons for $46/hr privately, $25/hr semi-private, or sign up for group lessons that run for 6 weeks for $84, which works out to $14/hr.

Genesis: There is an introductory price of $51.42/mo for 6 months, which they say they’ll give you with no enrollment fee, and they’ll let you keep that price for as long as you keep your membership. They’re always offering deals like this, so let’s multiply that by 12, and it’s $617.04/yr. Courts, which are all indoor, are $24/hr. Private lessons are $62/hr, semi-private are $36/hr, and group rates drop as low as $16/hr in groups of 6 or more.

The open hours per week are close to even between the facilities at first glance: Genesis is open approximately 102 hours/wk, and Woods Tennis is open 98.5/wk. However, one could consider that Genesis has at least triple the staffing costs, with those hours applying to three locations that folks can go with their single membership. That could be interpreted as yet another statistic that justifies the difference in commercial fees at Genesis, rather than supporting the “non-profit” rates for Woods.

So the annual membership is just shy of twice as much to use the Genesis facilities, and then the rest of the rates become pretty comparable. But then you consider that the Genesis membership gives you access to all of their other programs for health and wellness and gym equipment, as well as three locations in town, and that they’re a commercial enterprise paying staff at three locations and paying either rent or taxes on their locations, and they have a lot more overhead. The prices Woods is charging, then, don’t seem like “non-profit” prices, per se–they just seem like the prices a place can charge when they have a huge advantage in terms of overhead.

This seems to be confirmed by the tax documents filed by Woods Tennis, who are able to put any “excess income” (what folks used to call “profit”) into a fund that the city holds onto for future improvements to their facilities. In the last three years, they’ve dropped $190,000 into that account, and their staff are paid what look to be fair competitive commercial wages for the tennis industry while having that much left over. Besides these “overage” funds, donations by folks to their “friends group,” which is a nonprofit, seem to be a tax-deductible way for super-users of Woods Tennis to park more wealth toward expansion of the facility to meet their own needs. A mere 36 proponents at the public hearings about the tennis expansion claimed collectively to be hogging approximately 20 percent of available indoor court time, when one adds up their own accounts of how often they’re at the facility. The majority of them were obviously of great means and talked about the life enrichment qualities of tennis much like folks talk about generational wealth in Fitzgerald novels. Their complaints weren’t about lack of space for underprivileged folks to play, or the lack of resources to attract more tournaments–instead, they lamented that their grandchildren would sometimes have to wait for court time.

It’s worth noting that the general pricing for Woods Tennis remains ridiculously too high for the typical person living in Lincoln. There are very few people of modest means that would commit over 300 bucks a year as a “membership” or “pass” to something like tennis, and adding on the membership rates of $22/hr for a court starts to get wildly expensive (and goes up to $30/hr for non-pass holders). If you were a member, for example, and you wanted to play twice a week, you’d be out your $29.75 per month, plus an additional $176 in indoor court fees every month. That’s not likely to be the first choice for exercise or recreation for most low-income folks. The Woods Tennis page talks about handing out free rackets and giving free court time to kids, but there are no stats or records kept about this free court time, which seems bizarre for a nonprofit to not track–most would be proud to share these stats and lead with them in times like this. Their website mentions giving out “over 30” scholarships per year to adults and junior players, which isn’t exactly mind-boggling.

Let’s add one more comparison: how much is it to use the Woods Pool facility next to Woods Tennis? It’s run by the city, and like other neighborhood pools, an adult can buy a season pass for $106, or $82 for youth. Admission to any of the neighborhood pools including Woods for the day is $2.75 for adults or $2.10 for kids–and that’s all day, not per hour. Those prices seem more in line with what most would expect a “non-profit” to charge on public park grounds, and more conceivable for folks struggling financially to actually justify paying.

But that isn’t fair, right, because tons of people can use a pool simultaneously, while tennis requires a ton of space for two folks to use a court. Perhaps, but it also seems like this is pretty typical of sports that come to be associated with wealth: golf, skiing, sailing, mountain climbing, equestrian hobbies, big game hunting, etc. Wood Tennis talks a good game about bringing tennis “to the community” and transcending these stereotypes, but we don’t think the numbers back them up.

Relevant documents:

In the end, the most important thing is seeing that Woods Park is finally safe from this creeping erosion at the hands of tennis. It’s hard to say what the future will bring, but we bet that the Woods Park: Keep It Green group will be keeping an eye on things.