PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency has opted against a proposal that would have brought one of the fastest-growing sports in America to the long-dormant Apex building.
Christopher O’Neill recently proposed subdividing the building and transforming roughly 38,000 square feet of it into a pickleball facility.
O’Neill’s proposal called for the construction of nine regulation and two practice courts underneath the building’s ziggurat-shaped roof, which is visible from Interstate 95. He requested a 10-year lease from the city and offered to pay $115,000 annually to rent the space.
Under his proposal, O’Neill planned on opening the facility on March 1, 2024.
O’Neill, who’s a so-called pickler himself, acknowledged that his proposal has come “out of left field” and isn’t necessarily what the city had in mind for the building. He said the city would have the option to terminate the lease after five years.
“I don’t want to tie the city’s hands with being able to bring in a developer for that property,” O’Neill explained. “But I also believe it’s going to take quite a few years for that to happen and that’s why I asked for the minimum of five years in the 10-year lease.”
“I’m willing to step out of the way and let progress continue in our city if we are able to find a developer in the next four or five years,” he continued.
But the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency shot down his proposal Tuesday night due to the building’s condition and its uncertain future.
Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien tells 12 News he sees the value in bringing pickleball to the city, but believes the proposal itself isn’t viable.
“I love the pickleball idea, but we couldn’t commit the building long-term for the use of it,” he explained.
The Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency asked O’Neill to withdraw his proposal for the time being, which he obliged.
Grebien said the city is now working with O’Neill to find a more suitable space for the pickleball courts, adding that he wants Pawtucket “to be the sports mecca of Rhode Island.”
O’Neill told the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency finding a space that is suitable for the sport is easier said than done.
“I would love to find another space in the city. I’ve looked pretty much under every rock,” O’Neill said. “I’ve looked at properties from Warwick to Sharon … To be able to build nine pickleball courts, you really need 35,000 square feet and high ceilings. There just aren’t many buildings out there that can accommodate that.”
“I know pickleball wasn’t intended for Apex,” he continued. “But I also believe the building is going to be vacant for a long time.”
The city has been trying to redevelop the Apex building since acquiring it for $17.7 million, following years of negotiations with the former owner. Grebien said the city has already hired a consultant to determine the best use for the building and will likely start accepting proposals in January.
The pickleball proposal comes as construction is set to continue on Tidewater Landing, which is slated to be anchored by a minor-league soccer stadium. It also follows a billionaire’s push to restore McCoy Stadium instead of tearing it down to build a new high school.