ZEPHYRHILLS — After three years of planning and anticipation, the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center is just weeks away from its grand opening. Last week, more than 85 visitors toured the construction site to see all those plans have come together.
The center is named in honor of Vande Berg, a former Zephyrhills High School and college tennis standout, whose 2015 death in a car wreck stunned the community.
Located on a five-acre parcel on Simons Road in Zephyrhills, the center is set to open Aug. 15. Local officials say it is just the latest feather in the cap of Pasco County and its tourism brand — Experience Florida’s Sports Coast.
Mike Moore, who chairs both the county’s Tourist Development Council and the Pasco County Commission sees two upsides to the unique facility.
As a tourism destination, he said it will provide new options for sporting events and competitions and bring in new visitors to enjoy the area.
“It’s another addition of something we have to offer here in Pasco County. And when these tourists come, they put heads in beds, they eat at local restaurants and they shop in local stores,” Moore said. “That’s what tourism is all about, supporting the local community, supporting small business.”
But when the competitors return home, the facility will still be able to fill its courts with locals who will be able to enjoy first-class facilities for their everyday recreation, Moore said.
When completed, the center will offer 8 pickleball courts, 10 tennis courts, 4 padel courts, a fitness studio, salt therapy cabin, cryo-therapy room, restaurant, and the classrooms for United Global Academy, a private school for athletes. The facility will also offer massage, yoga, bio and neuro feedback, a pro shop and a kids room.
The center is designed “to increase the popularity of racket sports through its various exceptional programs and increase overall health and wellness in the local and international communities,‘' according to Jennifer Cannizzo, executive assistant to Pascal Collard, the tennis pro and chief executive officer for the center.
The upcoming opening of the center has Adam Thomas, the director of Pasco’s tourism destination marketing office, excited about the possibilities. “This is another great asset in our portfolio for the Florida Sports Coast,” he said.
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While there are other places for tennis competition in the area, Thomas said this facility will add features not seen before in the area to draw in new teams and new interest.
Pickleball, for example, has a large following. “It was once the fastest-growing sport in America,” he said. “It’s caught on now and it’s really competitive.”
But there is nothing nearby that had padel ball as an offering. Growing in popularity, Thomas said it is hard to describe without a video, but it is a sport that combines elements of tennis, table tennis and soccer. “We’re talking about a very unique selling opportunity for us,‘' Thomas said.
He also noted that the facility has support across government and the private sector. The $2-million center will be owned by the city of Zephyrhills as a public private-partnership. Funding included a special allocation by the Florida Legislature two years ago as well as private funds. Additional legislative dollars were vetoed last week by Governor Ron DeSantis as he trimmed the state budget to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus.
The family of Sarah Vande Berg attended the tour last week and took the opportunity to speak with visitors and center staff. Sarah’s father, Todd Vande Berg, said that he was looking forward to seeing the facilities completed soon and was honored by the recognition for his daughter.
“It’s very special,‘' he said.