Chris Spidle is a licensed unlimited General Construction Contractor and is Managing Member for Envisage Development LLC of Scottsdale. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa and is a licensed pilot with an extensive military background. His goal of bringing live jai-alai and on-site and mobile betting on it in Arizona begins now.
Since its inception in early 2000s, the National Jai-alai Association has pulled off a few “miracles” in the jai-alai world.
Their first project, led by Paul Kubala, was convincing a municipality to build a public jai-alai cancha. Getting something like this most likely had never even been attempted before. But in 2007, with help from private funds from the NJAA, the City of St. Petersburg became the first municipality to have its own public jai-alai court. And equally as amazing as this story is, in late 2020, the NJAA was able to get plans approved for the court to get totally remodeled to serve as a more “legitimate” court by increasing the wall length, height and width. Basically an entire new court will be in place of the old one. As you can see in the accompanying blogs of mine, work is ongoing now at a rapid pace and should be completed by the end of the summer.
Another accomplishment by the NJAA was assisting in the famous Dos Equis Beer Jai-alai commercial featuring Johnathan Goldsmith as the “World’s Most Interesting Man”. With help from our senior writer Marty Fleischman, who was General Manager of Dania Jai-alai at the time, virtually all the footage and ideas were obtained with our help. The beer company’s ten-year run was one of the most successful ad campaigns in TV history and made the beer and its overall image a household name.
The NJAA has assisted in putting together dozens of national and international tournaments, presented school demonstrations, assisted hundreds of people over the years with questions on jai-alai and has consulted with producers from the movie Black Mass and TV shows like “The Odd Couple” (a remake a couple years ago).
But last Saturday evening, I got an inquiry that caught my eye instantly. I was in Miami and had just attended the Magic City performance that afternoon and was heading out to watch the Yankees-Marlins game. The email was from a Chris Spidle of Envisage Development. He was reaching out to make contact with us regarding their interest in building a new fronton in Tempe Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix) in a new commercial development.
They want a full-blown fronton with limited seating, upscale dining area, a few luxury boxes. What? Are you kidding me? Jai-alai is on the decline. It was recently decoupled in Florida meaning pari-mutual facilities can continue their card cards (along with slots in Broward and Dade counties) without running live jai-alai games. The Connecticut and Rhode Island frontons are long gone. Hello lottery. Hello casinos.
But Chris Spidle and his group have other ideas. Chris is a type of guy who thinks “outside of the box”. Sports betting was just approved in the State of Arizona in April and plans are underway for the Tribe and sports teams to handle the betting action. Another huge bonus is mobile betting. That has been approved also. A huge 46-acre complex to be built in Tempe, Arizona is under planning stages and another sport franchise is required to be brought in. They already have others lined up (see Chris Spidle blog on this website for more details). The complex will include 1,000 upscale residences and 200,000 square feet of retail. All of this will be adjacent to Arizona State University entertainment district. An upscale jai-alai fronton would be attached to a small basketball arena hosting their ABA team.
How far can this project go? They will be putting on a presentation to AECOM and the City of Tempe next week. Initial reaction has been good. Money will not be not object if AECOM is involved. They are one of the largest engineering firms in the world and number 157 on the Fortune 500 List. They have built some of the largest airports and buildings, and stadiums in the world including JFK, LA, Logan Airports, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, AT & T Stadium, Barclays Center, and the World Trade Center.
The NJAA will offer their assistance if this project moves along………….
Here are some more pics of construction progress.
Whitey Bulger’s sharpshooting partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi has a date with the a Florida parole board on August 18th for his freedom.
He has served 26 years, so far, of a life sentence for his role in the back-to-back murder of World Jai-alai President John Callahan in Florida, and World Jai-alai owner Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma along with at least 8 other “gangland” executions.
In the state of Florida, prisoners can ask for a “compassionate release” where those who are at least 65 years old, experiencing serious deterioration in physical or mental health due to age and have served at least 10 years or 75% of their sentence. Flemmi is now 87 years old and is locked up in Florida prison unknown to the public because he has been labeled as a “Rat” for the deal he received in testifying against Whitey Bulger to avoid the death penalty.
There’s at least one person not too happy about this. Mary Callahan told the Boston Herald “I don’t think so. He’s talking about compassion? I didn’t see him having any compassion for his victims”. Her husband John was shot to death and left in a truck of a car at the Miami airport in 1982 because he knew too much about Bulger and Flemmi working as informants for the FBI. Bulger went on the run for 16 years before getting captured nearly 3 years ago at the age of 89. He was sentenced to a penitentiary in Hazelton West Virginia and was murdered by inmates just hours after arriving in a wheelchair.
Flemmi is hoping to gain his release- just like his former FBI handler, John Connolly, who was released last February. Connolly has claimed that he is terminally ill. Flemmi actually got his nickname “The Rifleman” during the Korena War as a member of the Army and ran the Boston Winter Hill Gang with Bulger and was the plot of the movie “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp that was released in 2015 and featured a phony jai-alai scene. There are no details on the condition of Flemmi’s health at this time. I guess we will find out next month.
We ask that no one goes on the court during construction. Someone could get hurt, and that would give us a black mark, tarnishing what has been a good relationship with the city for nearly 15 years. Thank you.
Meanwhile, work is delayed as Elsa is passing by – perhaps becoming the first hurricane to hit the Tampa Bay area in 100 years. And yes, the bottom one foot of the J Laca Museum has been lifted in anticipation of flooding from the storm hitting exactly at high tide.
The jai-alai folks on the west coast of Florida are excited as renovations to America’s first public jai-alai court are now underway. On Tuesday, NJAA volunteers Paul Kubala, Scott King, Corky, Anthony, Garby, Mike, Rule, Joe C and Rick B (yes Rick B my buddy!) pitched in to tear down sections of the side wall. On Wednesday, the bulldozers were out and begun tearing down the front wall – which had been in existence for yearly 40 years as a racquetball side wall – was torn down. Additional work included tearing down some of the fencing.
The teardown of the wall, which served as the front wall for Puryear Park jai-alai for over 30 years, was gone. The new jai-alai court will expand into the next racquetball section, bringing the court to 104 feet long. The height of the walls will be extended to 20 feet high in the front and side walls with 16’ on the back wall. The back wall is only being raised by 6 feet to 16 feet – purposely to prevent “home runs.” The width of the walls is being expanded 4 ½ feet on top of it. Extensive fencing will protect the pelota from leaving the premises and that work will start soon. The end result will be an entirely different cancha and that is what has the NJAA organizers excited. Our logos have also been approved to go on the front wall pending donations. We are also asking for donations from players and supporters to contribute to the construction of the court now to enhance the side wall with more concrete block. Mike, Laca, and Cachin contributing photographs and videos.
We will keep you posted as the court renovations resume.
America’s first public court ended its first “phase” of operation Sunday afternoon with a big tournament. The court, nestled around a bunch of soccer fields in northeast St. Petersburg had a big run of over 30 years of amateur jai-alai action – the last 14 as the first municipally owned cancha. Fourteen players participated in a 2 hour and 42 minute tournament before a crowd of about 40. We even added a substitute for Corky with Oyarbide (a former pro) from Spain.
The court is now closed and will be undergoing extensive renovations, making it more in line with the old N Miami court and Matt’s in Berlin, Connecticut. The improvements will take 2-3 months and officials hope to have the court open by Labor Day weekend – assuming the weather, manpower and materials all fall into place.
The tournament featured 7 front courters, 7 back courters with each player taking on 5 players with total points accumulating. A win would add 3 extra points, a place would add 2 extra points and a show would add 1 extra point to each persons scores on top of the number of points they accumulated. Seven games were played to 10 points and then two partido’s were held with the 3rd place qualifier from the front joining the 3rd place qualifier playing the 4th place qualifiers of both the front and back.
The first 15-point partido would determine 3rd place and the game featured Magic Mike and Gino (who had subbed for Thomas who had to leave just minutes before the performance with an unfortunate death in the family). Mike and Gino held a commanding 14-9 lead but lost the next 6 points to former Dania pro Garby and J Laca who ended up winning 15-14. Garby/Laca were awarded the 3rd place trophies.
The final game played featured Brodie and Cachin vs. Scott King and Rule with the latter taking the game 15-10. This gave Scott King and Rule the 1st place trophies with Brodie and Cachin taking 2nd place.
Time 2hrs 42mins. Attendance – 40. Weather – Mostly cloudy 87 degrees.
Sunday June 20 2021 Post Time 1:00pm. Fathers Day Final Tournament.
Game # 1 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 13:06:53 Ended: 13:17:36 Garby/Rule 10 Win ScottK/Oyrbde 1 Alex/Cachin 3 Brodie/Gino 4 Place Mike/Laca 4 Show Game # 2 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 13:26:26 Ended: 13:39:30 Echeva/Oyrbde 1 Garby/Cachin 4 Show ScottK/Gino 10 Win Alex/Laca 1 Brodie/Denver 7 Place Game # 3 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 13:43:13 Ended: 13:53:13 Armndo/Cachin 10 Win Echeva/Gino 2 Garby/Laca 3 ScottK/Denver 3 Show Alex/RickB 4 Place Game # 4 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 14:01:15 Ended: 14:15:39 Mike/Gino 9 Place Armndo/Laca 2 Echeva/Denver 3 Garby/RickB 5 Show ScottK/Rule 10 Win Game # 5 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 14:21:58 Ended: 14:30:18 Brodie/Laca 10 Win Mike/Denver 0 Armndo/RickB 2 Show Echeva/Rule 4 Place Garby/Oyrbde 2 Game # 6 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 14:34:45 Ended: 14:45:17 Alex/Denver 1 Show Brodie/RickB 0 Mike/Rule 5 Place Armndo/Oyrbde 1 Echeva/Cachin 10 Win Game # 7 to 10 points 06-20-2021 Start: 14:49:26 Ended: 15:06:18 ScottK/RickB 6 Alex/Rule 7 Show Brodie/Oyrbde 8 Place Mike/Cachin 10 Win Armndo/Gino 1 Game # 8 to 15 points 06-20-2021 Start: 15:14:04 Ended: 15:27:01 Mike/Gino 14 (4th Place) Garby/Laca 15 Win (3rd Place) Game # 9 to 15 points 06-20-2021 Start: 15:30:38 Ended: 15:47:21 Brodie/Cachin 10 (2nd Place) ScottK/Rule 15 Win (1st Place)
Click program pic above to download
Final Performance of Puryear Park 1
America’s first public court started construction exactly 14 years ago – June 18, 2007 – and now it’s about to get a huge makeover.
This Sunday, June 20th, a big tournament has been set up with little notice as we learned that the dismantling of the current court will begin the following day – Monday June 21st. The start date had been scheduled for the first quarter of 2021, but delays in getting materials as a result of COVID-19 took place and the start date was delayed.
There will be 6 jai-alai trophies handed out to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for both front court and back court. Complete rules of the tournament can be seen on page 3 of the 8 -page color program that will be available. (You can download above)
The event starts at 1pm this Sunday. It is expected to last about 3 hours with 7 games to 10 straight points followed by two exciting partidos to 15 points to award the winners in the qualifying rounds. Former Tampa players Scott King and Corky are on the card. Daniel was on the card but canceled because of Father’s Day.
Unfortunately, Buster’s Courtside Grill and Pro Shop will not be open due to losing money on the Magic City event we had a year and a half ago. Players and spectators are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks and of course chairs and umbrellas.
The event has no rain date, and any rain delay will limited to no more than an hour so families can enjoy dinner together later at a reasonable hour.
America’s First Public Jai-alai court is about to go out in a blast! St. Petersburg’s Puryear Park is about to see the wrecking ball. But before that can happen, NJAA organizers are quickly putting together one of their big tournaments on the day before the big plans commence.
Those plans will turn Puryear Park into a larger, near regulation-sized amateur court (check out my previous stories on this in my Pelota Press blogs for full details).
When I announced the courts approval exactly 14 years ago on Tigers Chalk Talk, the jai-alai world was stunned. The approval of a public jai-alai was the result of a decade of persistence by local residents Paul Kabala and Tom “Corky” DeMint. Within minutes, former players like Benny, Randy and Daniel were all reaching out with congratulations. But some people weren’t happy with the size of the court and the wall height. I spent the next couple days explaining why it was going to be built that way. We got what we could do at the time when the economy and real estate industry were about to crash.
But the NJAA crew were not giving up on future plans to expand. A couple of months ago it was all approved. The new expansion will include knocking down the front wall and extending it into the practice court area while extending the height and width of the walls. Extensive netting will further protect the area outside the court.
With the fencing to come down, some slabs pulled up and the front wall getting demolished all scheduled to begin Monday, June 21st , organizers are putting together a big event the day before – Sunday – Father’s Day at 1pm. Players are now signing up and several ex-pros have confirmed into playing including former Tampa and Miami star player “Daniel”. The tournament will be like Matt’s Spectacular 9 but everybody plays the same number of games and players. The top point getters will play in Partido for the championship. There will be 6 jai-alai trophies handed out – 1st, 2nd and 3rd to both the frontcourter and the backcourters.
Anthony Sutton (aka “Ant” at the last Magic City Tournament) will be in charge of the tournament but won’t play. He’s been on the IL list since suffering a torn rotator cuff injury while falling during practice at Matt’s last tournament in Connecticut.
Everyone is welcome to come watch. Again, Puryear Park’s final performance for the court as it is now will be Sunday, June 20th at 1pm. The court will reopen a couple of months later, but being the summer time coming up with much needed rain, it may take longer.
We have some really good news, when some good news has been hard to find this week for those in the jai-alali world.
Dania Jai-alai is going to resume their season after the regular season closes down Memorial Day weekend.
Their next “season” is still set for September 1st thru November 30th and live full court jai-alai will continue.
A CBA is in place until March of 2023 with the players, and it is very likely Dania will continue operations at least thru those dates.
As I have reported in my last blog, the owners DO like jai-alai and they DO like Benny. They like the idea of having something different to offer to spectators or gamblers entering the building that the Tribe does not offer. Often, those jai-alai fans wander into the casino or have a meal and drinks.
This is not to say a buy-out is not impossible, but it would be expensive and the owners do not look at business like that.
No one is going to tell you what to do with your money, but we hope Jai-alai fans across America help support Dania to make the decision of Decoupling a difficult one. The only thing in the way now is a John Hancock from the Governor, and a possible lawsuit from No Casinos who claim decoupling is “an expansion of gambling”.