As a resident of Naples, Florida — aka "The Pickleball Capital of the World" — Chris Haas has watched the formerly niche sport explode over the last few years.
And he wants in.
"The (participation) numbers are just outstanding," said Haas, the president and CEO of All Pro Freight Systems Inc. of Westlake. "To not capitalize on it doesn't make sense."
That's particularly true in Cleveland, where court demand often outweighs supply, especially for indoor courts in the winter.
So, Haas recently purchased a warehouse in Westlake and plans to open the indoor "The Cleveland Pickleball Club" in late 2023.
"The sense of urgency is there," he said, "and it's definitely more of an indoor sport (in Cleveland)."
While Haas is keeping the warehouse's location a secret for now, it will eventually include 12 indoor courts and, potentially, four outdoor courts. While he's leaning toward making it a private club, "we're not going to turn people away."
Haas said he's talked with ClevelandPickleball.com co-founder Mike Jurek about holding tournaments at the club, and Haas also said he's talking to a "very famous chef in town" about adding a food and beverage component. Haas said he already has a beer and wine license at the location and is considering applying for a full liquor license.
"He's a top-tier guy," Haas said of the chef. "The location is so prime, it would be stupid not to get into that (food and beverage)."
The news comes soon after Columbus-based Pickle and Chill announced plans to open a facility with 12 indoor courts and six outdoor courts at the former Stein Mart building in Beachwood.
"It's a great complement to what's happening in Beachwood," he said. "It's not going to be a problem from a competitive standpoint since it's on the West Side.
"It's like a golf course. You're going to go to the course closest to you. If you have to go through four cities to get to an indoor court, you'll do it. But if you don't, you won't."
Haas began playing pickleball four years ago and said he has developed into a 4.0 player on a 1-5 scale, meaning he's better than most.
But this isn't just a passion project, he said.
"I have the business sense to know people are really raving about it," he said. "I don't need (investment) money or partners unless they're adding value. My restaurant guy and Mike (Jurek) brings something to the table that I can align myself with.
"I know enough about it (the sport) to know I don't need to partner with an established club. I think it will grow (organically) through the demand and interest that's already there."
Pickleball has been named America's fastest-growing sport in each of the last three years by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, with 14% of adult Americans (36.5 million people) playing pickleball at least once between August 2021 and August 2022, per the Association of Pickleball Professionals.
There are now more than 10,000 places to play pickleball in the United States — including close to 200 in Greater Cleveland — with an average growth of 158.6% per year, according to PickleHeads.com.
"The attraction is, from age 5 to 90, you can play pickleball," Haas said. "It's an expansive age group.
"All my kids and relatives and family in Northeast Ohio play it. They can't get enough of it. It's a great workout and a fun little activity."