Environment Lincoln Why Rich People Suck

The Proposed Tennis Center Expansion in Lincoln is NIMBY Wrapped in the Rhetoric of Equity

A proposal to expand a tennis center in a public park in central Lincoln is a case study in how the monied interests in Lincoln politics work.

If you live in Lincoln, you are probably familiar with Woods Park, a welcome green space in the middle of Lincoln, providing some respite from the urban development along O Street. Located at the intersection of 33rd and O, Woods Park offers a mixed-use space at the heart of the historic, mixed-income Woods Park neighborhood, including–crucially–about ten linear blocks of old trees lining the park’s east and south boundaries, providing habitat for birds and other wildlife.

At the southeast corner of the park stands the Woods Tennis Center, a private organization located on public land, which is once again attempting to expand their facility. Since the park’s creation in the 1950s, the Tennis Center has taken more and more of the park. Only three outdoor courts were created in 1964, but through incremental expansion proposals–all opposed by surrounding neighborhoods–the Tennis Center now offers twelve outdoor courts and buildings containing six indoor courts, along with a parking lot, all located within the park’s boundaries. The Tennis Center has argued for these expansions by claiming as recently as 2015 that they would make the Center able to address its needs for the next 50 years. 

However, the Tennis Center has now proposed a massive new expansion that would increase their courts from 18 to 25, including both outdoor courts and a large addition to their windowless industrial tin warehouse building that is already roughly the size and beauty of a Menard’s. The expansion plan will result in ripping out over 70 trees, and will turn the south end of the park into a concrete-covered sports complex and parking lot. The outdoor courts will be wrapped in exceptionally high chain link fencing that will make the place look like a prison yard. The people in the Woods Park neighborhood (including several Seeing Red Nebraska contributors) are of course horrified by this and are rightfully pushing back on this obscenity. 

And this is where the story of the tennis center becomes one about local democracy and community engagement–more specifically, why so many people become disillusioned with local democracy and community engagement.

We have been well-trained in this country to view all political problems in terms of Republicans vs Democrats, and it leads to situations like what we have in Lincoln, where the generally liberal population is led to believe that the blue city government is a point of pride in a red state and that we should defer to them to protect community interests because at least they are not Republicans, they are doing their best but have to compromise, etc. etc. Yet what this narrative belies is the fact that the blue city government is liberal mainly in culture wars matters while regularly advancing the interests of wealthy residents over everyone else. 

This couldn’t be clearer than in the tennis center fight, in which rich suburban tennis players have pasted a veneer of liberal social justice values—they are “democratizing” tennis by offering it inexpensively in the middle of the city—onto their plan to raze old trees and public park space to improve their own pastime options. Just to be clear, if you want to play tennis at the Tennis Center, you will fork over $30 an hour for an indoor court and $12 an hour for an outdoor one, unless you buy a membership ($310 for an adult) that gets you a discount. 

Take a look at this map. Woods Park is outlined in red, and the residences of the Tennis Center’s board members are noted with stars.

None of the board members live in the Woods Park neighborhood, and many live far beyond the three-mile radius that community parks are meant to serve. And most of the board members live right by dedicated green spaces of the kind they are so philanthropically attempting to bulldoze for their hobby at Woods Park.

This is a unique flavor of NIMBY–the board of a tennis center is not pursuing tennis courts in their own neighborhoods, where their own neighbors might object to the destruction of green space and an influx of traffic and parking to accommodate regional tournaments. Instead they are preserving their own neighborhoods while turning a significant part of a central mixed-use park into a barren sports complex.

Tennis boosters have this situation cornered from all fronts, sitting in important positions for the parks, for the city planning commission, and privately as realtors and prominent attorneys at the city’s largest firms, who have an obscene degree of influence over the planning of this “blue” city. Everything about this proposal looks like the typical Lincoln scenario, in which nice public “liberals” smile and nod, then proceed to do what they were going to do anyway. For the most part, wealthy people’s politics, including those on the “left,” have nothing to do with the regular left/right paradigm we’re in–they’re making the world look like the kind of playground they want, and they have the money and power to set up the situation so that they rarely lose. Remember, for example, when tennis courts were treated as an exception to the city’s early covid policy?

The Tennis Center has framed their expansion as an exercise in equitability, “bringing tennis to the community” and “democratizing” tennis. But transforming a mixed-use park into your pastime facility in someone else’s neighborhood above their strenuous objections is neither equitable nor democratic. And in a couple of places we have seen the Center’s contempt for the community they purport to serve. When a community group planned to stand at the park with signs that said things like “Keep Woods Park Green” and “Park isn’t short for parking lot,” the Center sent their patrons a warning to stay “vigilant,” “not engage in conversation” and to expect a police presence.

Email the Tennis Center sent to members in February 2024

We think the contempt is evident also in some of the disingenuous arguments for expansion the Center has broadcast–for example, pretending that the massive overhaul of the parking area won’t bulldoze the lines of trees alongside it, or in their dubious numbers concerning their charitable work. For example, they make this claim on their website:

So we actually have no idea here how many poor kids the Tennis Center is serving, even though they drop the number 160,000, which is actually what the entire national network supposedly serves. And by their own admission here, they mainly perform outreach through city-owned facilities. But elsewhere they include some specifics:

So it’s “over 30” people–kids and adults included–who receive a “scholarship” from the center each year. And if you want further information about that you will need to contact them individually and be prepared to offer your tax documents. Ah yes, tennis: the great equalizer.

Perhaps our favorite argument the Tennis Center offers for its expansion is claiming that tennis should be promoted here because a study found that tennis players live ten years longer. Of course exercise is good for health (cheap or free exercise was found to increase life expectancy by 3-4 years) but the idea that tennis per se produces such longevity is ridiculous. We would expect to see similar increased longevity among people who share jars of Grey Poupon through the windows of their Rolls Royces. Surely the tennis-playing board members of Lincoln’s swankiest neighborhoods learned that correlation is not causation, so we can only assume they think the plebes who live near their tennis courts won’t know the difference.

Sadly, we expect the tennisfolk to get their way, but we encourage you to read up more on the situation and, if the expansion impacts you, attend one of the community meetings being held on March 2, March 4, and March 5. More information here: Woods Park Community Meetings – City of Lincoln, NE.

Here are some additional resources:

A presentation made by one of the Woods Park: Keep it Green folks that addresses some of the tennis center claims with responses: 2024.2.7 Mediation Meeting Presentation

An email the tennis center sent to its members and also posted an open letter on their website, which you can read here: Phase II | Woods Tennis Center

And some additional actions you can take:

Fill out this survey with your thoughts on the tennis facility expansion: Proposed Tennis Expansion at Woods Park – City of Lincoln, NE

Sign this petition: Petition · Say No to Further Expansion of Tennis at Woods Park, Lincoln, Nebraska ·

Email parks and rec at , Mayor Baird at , and the Lincoln City Council members at