The new pickleball location
There are gyms on Third Street, Burn Fitness is in the space above, so why not have an indoor pickleball court?!

Only a blank canvas can be transformed into a work of art and that’s what’s happening on the Third Street Promenade, albeit quite slowly. The latest empty lot to be turned into something really rather interesting is the former site of the Adidas store, 1231 3rd Street (Adidas is now at 1337 3rd St). The 10,000 sq ft space is set to be reworked into an indoor pickleball club, complete with a bar and chill out areas.

This innovative indoor exercise initiative is the brainchild of Stephanie McCaffrey and Erin Robertson. “It didn’t take long at all for me to fall in love with pickleball and my family even built a court in our backyard in New England,” McCaffrey says, adding, “When I came to Los Angeles, I honestly expected to see courts everywhere, but there are very few public courts within a 20 or even 30 minute radius of the Promenade.”

Pickleball hails from Washington state and can be played indoors or outdoors. It uses a paddle, similar to but larger than a ping pong paddle and a wiffle ball. It is played on a badminton-sized court and you can fit up to four pickleball courts on a standard tennis court.

While the sport has been around for decades, pickleball has become a national phenomenon with more than 36 million people playing nationally. The game, which is a slower and more social version of tennis, is a favorite outlet for a diverse range of residents for its camaraderie and ease of play.

There are no permanent pickleball courts in Santa Monica, however there are four tennis courts in Memorial Park that are striped for pickleball and that location regularly draws hundreds on a weekend. There are also dedicated times for pickleball at John Adams Middle School on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.. At John Adams there are a total of eight pickleball courts and nets are provided.

The Santa Monica Tennis Center opened a pickleball facility at its 2501 Wilshire Boulevard location last year catering to the growing crowds but the explosive growth has caused tension with traditional tennis players who also want those courts.

Even after the explosion in popularity of pickleball, McCaffrey says there’s nowhere nearby that any of the thousands of people who work in the Downtown area can escape to at the end of the day.

McCaffrey hails from an impressive sporting background. She’s a former professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League, first for the Boston Breakers and then the Chicago Red Stars. She made her first appearance for the US national team in the under-23 squad and then earned her first senior cap in 2015 against Brazil, where she scored her first international goal.

Robertson is a fashion designer who also hails from the east coast. She attended the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and won the coveted Teen Vogue Scholarship in her first year. Five years later and just three weeks after graduating, she won season 15 of the Emmy Award-winning reality television series Project Runway Season 15.

The plan is not to completely gut and redecorate the interior, but rather to invest in necessary interior modifications, like thick noise-reducing curtains for example, so that they can be easily moved to a new location as and when the time arises. Obviously some redecoration will take place, but to keep costs down, it will be kept to a minimum.

“We signed the lease and we’ll be up and running by August 20,” McCaffrey says. “The shortest length of time I think we’ll be here for is six months, but it might be years.”

The plan is to open other, similar outlets around the westside, making the most of empty, available spaces and then moving them only if it’s really necessary. This particular site will feature three, full-size Professional Pickleball Association and Major League Pickleball approved courts. The space will also include a full bar, kitchen-of-sorts and chill out areas, plus the chance to buy unique merch designed by Robertson. The principal Promenade location is a proof of concept as much as anything else.

“The idea is to prove that it works, for six months ideally, then negotiate a much longer lease and move on to the next one,” Robertson says. “We want to go to Calabasas, we want to go to Palos Verdes, we want to go to Manhattan Beach, we want to go to Hollywood, we want to go to Glendale. The sky’s the limit.”

With the amount of investment this project is attracting, both McCaffrey and Robertson firmly believe no other retail outlet is going to be able to outbid them for the foreseeable future. Knowing that the alcohol permit might take the longest, they secured that first and once it was sorted, moved ahead with the other elements, the most expensive of which was the court surfaces, which are being installed next week.

A variety of different membership packages will be available, but it very roughly translates to $20 per player per hour. “So you basically have two options right now, you can go to a public court, and you can wait 30 minutes, and then play for 15 minutes for free. Or you can come here and play for an entire hour for 20 bucks,” McCaffrey says.

Memberships will be $95 per month and with that comes 14 days advance booking, 10 percent off all open play, 15 to 30 percent of all league play and 10 percent off all events. A website is currently being developed.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.