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Pickleball Provides Final Piece of Wachusett Plaza Puzzle

Worcester Business Journal
July 2023

Pickleball, a racket sport played on a scaled-down tennis court with a plastic ball and paddles, has been the subject of much media attention and growing popularity. Soon, Central Massachusetts will have its own indoor pickleball venue in West Boylston.

Wachusett Plaza at 184 West Boylston St. will be home to Rt.12 Pickle by the fourth quarter of this year, according to a Monday press release from Worcester real estate firm Kelleher & Sadowsky Associates.

The lease for the 30,000-square-foot anchor space makes the plaza 100% leased, according to the real estate firm, the result of a four-year push to fill the plaza which was decimated by a loss of tenants in 2019.

In 2019, the 102,000-square-foot plaza lost tenants Salter College, which closed, and The Peterson School which moved to a Worcester location. The two had been leasing 50,000 square feet of space. Other tenants left during COVID, leaving the plaza about 60% vacant, at its worst.

The plaza’s rebound was due in large part to creativity, said Kelleher & Sadowsky Vice President Thomas Bodden. The plaza is now home to offices for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Central Massachusetts Safety Council.

Three Rivers Nursery School occupies a space in the plaza Bodden said would be difficult to lease for retail because it offers no frontage, but it was desirable for a daycare because the business doesn’t want the kids to be right on the busy parking lot.

The other tenants at the site include restaurants, Froze Zone, which was recently named best ice cream in Central Massachusetts by readers of the Telegram & Gazette, and fitness center Planet Fitness.

Pickleball facilities are strong candidates for retail spaces because they don’t require a lot of buildout, and the number of courts are variable according to how much space is available, as opposed to chain retailers who may have specific requirements for square footage, Bodden said.

The difficult part of finding a space for pickleball is finding a location with high enough ceilings as well as an open space with no support columns, common in retail sites, said Rt. 12 Pickle Founder Ben Minsk.

Rt. 12 Pickle will have eight courts, with a championship court at the center for tournaments. The location will offer drop-in play and court rental. The facility will offer beer, wine, and snacks, but no kitchen as Minsk wants to complement rather than compete with neighboring restaurants in the plaza.

Minsk retired from a career in sales and took up pickleball about a year and a half ago.

“It’s a fun, social sport, easy to pick up and play,” said Minsk,” and you don’t have to be a super athlete to be good at it.”

He saw a strong potential market in the Worcester area, with 2,000 Worcester County Facebook users a part of pickleball groups on the site. He hopes the area’s roughly 8,000 college students will want to play, plans to offer college discounts, and stage college nights.

The plans for the business will continue to develop as Minsk builds out the site in anticipation of a November or December opening. He intends to hire a director of pickleball operations to help with the particulars of how the location will run.

The brokerage team of Principal Will Kelleher, and Vice Presidents Tom Bodden, and Mark Johns of Kelleher & Sadowsky represented the landlord Surabian Realty Co. of West Boylston in the Rt. 12 Pickle transaction, and Associate Joe Laursen and Will Kelleher represented Rt. 12 Pickle.

By Timothy Doyle

Will Kelleher, IV

Tom Bodden

Mark Johns

Joe Laursen