Fast-Growing Sport of Pickleball Bounces Into Malls

One of World’s Largest Facilities Leases Space in Former Saks Off 5th in Connecticut

A rendering depicts the exterior of Pickleball America facility planned for a former Saks Off 5th store at a mall in Stamford, Connecticut. (Houlihan Lawrence) A rendering depicts the exterior of Pickleball America facility planned for a former Saks Off 5th store at a mall in Stamford, Connecticut. (Houlihan Lawrence)

Pickleball courts, used in the nation’s fastest-growing sport, have been popping up in apartment complexes and hotels across the country. Now they are finding their way into malls, with one of the biggest indoor venues coming to the Stamford Town Center in Connecticut.

Pickleball America has leased more than 80,000 square feet of anchor space, a former Saks Off 5th store at 140 Atlantic St., at the mall, according to Rye Brook, New York-based broker Houlihan Lawrence’s commercial division.

The Connecticut deal marks one of the highest-profile leases so far as the sport’s popularity rises and includes more age groups. Several years ago, the courts were found in industrial buildings. or offered as amenities at multifamily developments, particularly for those 55 and older who are attracted to a sport that’s a slower version of tennis.

Now they are being added as crowd-pleasers in places such as office parks, restaurants and hotels. And the venue slated for Stamford isn’t the only one that’s finding a home in a mall, a brick-and-mortar retail category that’s increasingly seeking out new kinds of tenants to occupy vacant department store space. A large indoor pickleball facility is planned for a Georgia mall to tap the drawing power of what a 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association says is a game that’s catching on faster than any other in America.

The facility slated for the downtown Stamford mall is being touted as one of the world’s largest indoor pickleball venues, with 28 courts. It will move into the former two-story Saks Off 5th space in phases: The initial phase begins immediately with a first floor spanning 43,000 square feet, while the second floor, at 37,000 square feet, is scheduled to open in coming months, according to Houlihan Lawrence.

Crowds Expected

“This is the best possible reuse of a large retail anchor space in a mall,” Mia Schipani, the Houlihan Lawrence broker who represented the sports company in the lease, said in a statement. “Pickleball America is planning for over 500,000-plus people to come through the venue each year.”

She added that leases like this “are changing the purpose of malls” in the face of online shopping and are making Stamford Town Center “a major destination.”

In addition to pickleball, the new venue will also be used as a multiuse flex space for tournaments, exhibitions, live music and events.

“We’ve been focused on health and wellness, and Pickleball America works perfectly with that strategy, especially in this large format as an anchor,” Alexander Yaraghi, owner of Stamford Town Center, said in a statement.

In Macon, Georgia, plans call for a 32-court indoor pickleball facility at a former Belk store site at the Macon Mall as part of the larger redevelopment and revitalization of the retail center and surrounding area. It will have 16 lower-level and 16 upper-level concrete courts, making it one of the largest indoor pickleball facilities in the world, according to the website for Macon-Bibb County.

The USA Pickleball Georgia Ambassadors recently held a retreat in Macon-Bibb, and local officials gave them a tour of the site for the new courts at Macon Mall.

New Mall Tenant

“A venue of this type will be able to host major tournaments and other events,” said Chuck Blackshear, assistant regional director of USA Pickleball Ambassadors, in a statement about the facility planned in Macon.

“The proximity to the Atlanta airport is a big plus, the return on the investment will be noticed right away,” he added.

INDIAN WELLS, CA - NOVEMBER 13: Julian Arnold returns a serve on championship court against Ben Johns in the Pro Men's Singles championship match of the 2022 Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals Championships at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on November 13, 2022 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Bruce Yeung/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Pickleball’s Popularity Has Resorts Scrambling To Convert Tennis Courts, Seize Revenue Opportunities

Malls have been lining up nontraditional retail tenants to occupy vacant space — including entertainment and sports facilities, as well as healthcare and beauty-service providers, grocery stores and restaurants — to draw repeat foot traffic.

That’s the concept behind American Dream, the mega mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, that includes not only stores but an indoor water park, an indoor amusement park, an ice skating ring, an indoor ski dome, a miniature golf course and an aquarium.

“Sports-tainment, a sports-first experience appeals to not only avid players but to people who may want to try something new,” Jay Waldner, co-founder of Pickleball America, said in a statement about the facility planned for Stamford. “We are hoping to inspire and encourage the community to join a healthy and fun form of socializing.”

The Saks Off 5th at the Stamford mall closed in fall 2021 and has since reopened at a former Lord & Taylor store at 110 High Ridge Road in Stamford.

Fast-Growing Sport of Pickleball Bounces Into Malls
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