As large trucks filled with dirt and tall cranes roll by a flattened lot, local Wesley Chapel tennis guru and businessman Pascal Collard smiles.
The trucks are slowly but surely allowing Pascal’s vision come to life.
The parking lot is there, he says, pointing to his left. Tennis courts, pickleball courts and padel courts over there, surrounding the tennis center.
And, what about way over there, all the way to the right?
Pascal says that will be a 30,000-sq.-ft. indoor training facility with space for both more tennis courts and removable turf for other sports.
“It is beautiful, no?,” Pascal asks.
The Sarah Vande Berg Memorial Tennis & Wellbeing Center in Zephyrhills (at 6585 Simons Rd.) has broken ground, and is expected to open in late spring or early summer of 2020.
When it is done, the $4.9-million project will feature 11 tennis courts, including a main court with spectator seating, eight pickleball courts — one of the fastest growing sports in America — and four courts for padel, another racquet sport that can best be described as a cross between, well, almost every other racquet sport.
The 7,400-sq.-ft. indoor tennis center will house a fitness and rehabilitation center, a restaurant and café, a salt room, cryotherapy, a pro shop and a kid’s club.
The tennis center is another feather in the “Florida’s Sports Coast” cap, joining AdventHealth Center Ice, Saddlebrook Resort and the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, as the area continues to transform itself from ranches to recreation.
“It fits right in with (our new) Florida Sports Coast vision,” says Adam Thomas, the county’s tourism director. “This will make an impact.”
The tennis complex is a public-private partnership between the City of Zephyrhills, the Sarah Vande Berg (SVB) Tennis Foundation and Pascal, the president of Tennis P.R.O., LLC, and the director — and driving force — behind the new facility.
It is the hope of Pascal, who ran the renowned tennis program at Saddlebrook Resort from 2003-06 and lives in Estancia, that the SVB Memorial Tennis Center reaches far and wide into the surrounding communities to help bring it to life.
“It is something that people want,” says Pascal. “I hear it all the time. It will be a place where mom can do fitness and dad can do tennis, or vice versa, and the kids can do the Kids Club, or daycare. That is huge.”
Pascal says he also is teaming up with Buttermilk Provisions owner Dana Morris for a restaurant at the tennis center as well.
“We think this will be something special and unique,” says Pascal, who never stops smiling as he describes the project.
The tennis center, which is located off Eiland Blvd. just a few miles north of eastern Wesley Chapel, is named for former Zephyrhills High tennis standout Sarah Vande Berg, who died in an automobile accident at the age of 21 in 2015.
It will be equipped to host regional (like college) and even national events like United States Tennis Association (USTA) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments, and also will provide a place for area residents looking for courts on which to play. Pascal would like to see the area active in USTA league tennis, where Saddlebrook Resort may field an occasional team limited by membership restrictions.
It also will offer instructional tennis for children, and training for the more serious players.
And, speaking of memberships, Pascal is hoping to sign up hundreds at a price he said will be fair and less expensive than the clubs in the area. Depending on what type of membership you buy, it also could include membership to the Silverado Golf & Country Club, which is adjacent to the tennis complex.
While tennis will be the central focus of the facility, Pascal also has formed the United Global Academy, which will be an online school limited to 32 students from a variety of sports, similar to what IMG Academy in Bradenton offers but on a smaller scale initially. Mark Shepherd, former director of student services at Saddlebrook Prep on the resort’s property, will help run the academic side.
Pascal has reached into Wesley Chapel’s sporting community to help develop those athletes, who will be able to train in the 30,000-sq.-ft. indoor facility, which can accommodate four tennis courts and a synthetic turf soccer field.
“Why not create a sports association?,” he says. “Get all the best ex-athletes in the area to come together once a month to promote sports to kids…kids who cant afford it!”
Athletes will be able to receive training from coaches like former English Premier League Soccer player and local club coach Gary Blissett, former New Orleans Saints lineman Mel Williams, Silverado Golf & Country Club golf pro Sean Klotz and others.
“The vision is to bring the community together by offering a family-friendly experience,” says Pascal, who most recently was the tennis director at Merion Cricket Club, a private club in Haverford, PA, with more than 2,000 members. “There will truly be something for everyone here.”
For more information, visit the SVBTennisCenter.com.