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Pickleball craze breathes new life into old downtown Minneapolis office buildings

Susan Du, Star Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

In a fever-dream phase of the pandemic, commercial real estate broker Mike Marinovich used electrical tape to draw out three pickleball courts on the sprawling second floor of his vacant downtown Minneapolis office building.

The space at 1200 Washington Av. S. had just been vacated by a supercomputing center, and Marinovich was having no luck finding a new tenant as COVID still raged. He'd get takeout and invite friends to play. Everybody was wearing N95 masks and scrambling around on the blazing white, non-conductive data center tile, balls bouncing off the computers. It was all very "apocalyptic," his wife, Kristen Marinovich, recalls, but it was how they dealt with the loneliness.

Nearly four years later, Marinovich's makeshift gathering spot has been transformed into a permanent recreation destination — the seven-court Minneapolis Pickleball Club. With more people working from home and building owners struggling to fill central business district buildings, Marinovich said it's a move that's both helping to bring people back downtown — and stabilizing his business.

"I've been in the commercial real estate and office market for almost 40 years and I've never seen it like this before," he said. "People aren't getting back into the office and employers aren't asking them to, so we pivoted, and the reception has been phenomenal."

Interest in the Minneapolis Pickleball Club, which shares the building with tenants that include the University of Minnesota's Advanced Research and Diagnostics Laboratory, has exceeded expectations. The club has signed up about 280 members in three months, including sporty senior residents of nearby condos, downtown workers and suburbanites easing their way back into the city.

One Wednesday, Jerry Baack, the CEO of Bridgewater Bank, reserved the whole club for his employees and longtime clients. They practiced their curve shots and a cracked a case of beer; the club is BYOB. Anytime they can get out of the office and team-build is good for business, Baack said, but when it comes to pickleball, there's not nearly enough court time to be had for everyone.


In 2021, the Minnesota health club chain Life Time crawled out from under a series of existential shutdowns with pickleball in mind. Its Target Center location made the controversial choice to convert one of its basketball gyms into three pickleball courts. The basketball players were skeptical, but the pickleballers were thrilled. The Minneapolis Park Board didn't have many facilities at the time, and when it came to indoor options for winter play, downtown had none.

The pickleball courts are main stage at Life Time Target Center, surrounded by a walking track and populated by enthusiastic players of all ages. Last summer when the city put on Warehouse District Live, weekend street festivals aimed at inviting positive activity back downtown, Life Time hosted pickleball in Butler Square. The company wanted to show that the suburbs' monopoly on pickleball is over, said manager Brian Opatz.

"I really am very intentionally trying to build a community and have people get to know each other, establish friendships and have more than just a casual passing relationship," said Kris Miner, the certified pro running the pickleball program at Life Time Target Center. "It's a very exciting time. A lot of people are very excited to have those facilities within walking distance of all the businesses downtown."

The chain now has 660 permanent pickleball courts nationwide, including 69 in Minnesota.


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