U.S. Tennis Association and Indianapolis Tennis Championships and IUPUI and Sports/Recreation and Sports Business

Tennis groups seek to save some IUPUI courts

June 5, 2010

The U.S. Tennis Association is asking Mayor Greg Ballard and IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantz to save some of the courts at the Indianapolis Tennis Center, which is scheduled to be demolished just days after it closes Aug. 5.

Tennis The Indianapolis Tennis Center hosted a tournament for 30 years. (IBJ File Photo)

The tennis center, on the southeast edge of the IUPUI campus, was a regular stop on the professional tennis circuit for 30 years until organizers announced after last year’s event that the Indianapolis Tennis Championships were moving to Atlanta.

The wrecking ball is set to swing through the 10,000-seat stadium court the second week of August. But advocates say the six indoor courts and nine outdoor courts that surround the stadium are still a draw for tennis enthusiasts, with more than 900 ITC dues-paying members using the facility.

“That’s the epicenter of tennis here in Indianapolis, providing a place for year-round training and play,” said Mark Saunders, president of the USTA’s Midwest Section. “What really shocked us is how quickly this happened. It’s a big blow to lose this facility, and we weren’t ready for it.”

TennisUSTA officials say tennis enthusiasts aren’t the only ones who will suffer from losing the center.

“We think [it] will be a big hit to the downtown economy,” Saunders said. “We often brought in coaches and players for clinics which also used space at IUPUI’s University Place and other downtown hotel space. Our coaches’ clinics brought in more than 300 people [annually].”

Others fear damage to the city’s reputation as a center for amateur sports.

“To have a truly vibrant sports initiative like the one this city was built on, you have to have a vibrant offering of various sports,” said David Morton, president of Sunrise Sports Group, a local sports marketing firm. “The real fear here is that the loss of this facility contracts the larger sports scene in this community. And when a facility like this goes away, it’s very difficult to resurrect another one like it.”

Some of the outdoor courts have already been converted into a surface parking lot that is to be replaced by a parking garage. An expansion of the adjacent NCAA headquarters will occupy a portion of the tennis complex site. The NCAA has agreed to pay the $500,000 demolition expense.

Saunders said the USTA moved its Midwest Section headquarters here from Ohio in 1991 because of the center and has its Midwest Regional Training Center there.

The USTA’s current 18-month contract to hold its regional training center at the Tennis Center expires this summer, Saunders said, “about the time the demolition starts.”

It doesn’t appear likely Bantz or Ballard will intervene to save some of the courts or build new ones, as the USTA has requested, at least not in the near term.

While a staffer of Ballard’s agreed to discuss the matter with USTA officials, Bantz replied back with a letter to the USTA saying the demolition is a done deal.

But Bantz did offer a glimmer of hope.

“Please be assured that the campus is interested and supportive of a relocation plan for the ITC, but we can neither acquire new land nor commit to new construction expenses at this time,” Bantz said in the letter. “Should any prospects along these lines develop, we will certainly investigate them.”

Bantz added in the letter that there is no way the demolition plans can be rescinded due to development plans for the site already in place.

Long term, IUPUI’s master plan calls for building a 6,000- to 8,000-seat athletic and convocation center and other academic buildings on the tennis center site.

What irks USTA officials is that near-term plans call for the indoor facility and some of the outdoor courts to be replaced with green space.

Local tennis officials also point out that the ITC brings in enough money to pay for itself. IUPUI officials confirmed that, but said there’s no money for facility repairs or major maintenance costs.

The USTA, which houses its 24 employees in a separate headquarters on East 96th Street near Westfield Boulevard, is now scrambling for a place to move its training center, which is the training home to a handful of the nation’s top junior players and coaches, Saunders said.

Despite the planned demolition of the Tennis Center, Stephen Butzlaff, the Chicago-based president of the USTA Midwest Section, said there is no plan at this time to pull out of Indianapolis.

But some of the USTA’s regional training center activities will likely be shipped to facilities in Chicago, Saunders said, with others staying in Indianapolis.

The USTA Midwest Section has 83,000 members, the second most of the USTA’s 17 Sections. The Southeast has the biggest section. According to USTA officials, almost 10,000 of the Midwest Section’s members live in central Indiana.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association said tennis participation has grown 43 percent in the last seven years in the United States, more than any other sport. USTA officials say their membership is growing 5 percent annually.

The USTA isn’t the only organization scrambling. The Central Indiana Tennis Association also held several annual events—including tournaments, clinics and training events—at the facility.

CITA President Joe Kirsch has contacted Ballard about the loss of the facility and hopes to meet with one of the mayor’s economic development officials this month to discuss the matter.

“We realize this matter is complex beyond belief,” said Kirsch, a Butler University chemistry professor. “But we think it’s important that the voice of our membership is heard by the people that matter.”

IUPUI has a men’s and women’s tennis team, and for now those teams will have to play and train off-campus. IUPUI officials said they have no plans to discontinue those programs.

When it was constructed in 1979, the Indianapolis Tennis Center was one of the pillars of Indianapolis’ push to make itself a sports capital. For three decades, it hosted the ATP Tour tournament formerly known as the RCA Championships.

The tournament was a hotbed of corporate hospitality for many years. Attendance often reached 100,000 for the week-long event.

IUPUI said it will attempt to place the two ITC full-time staffers in other positions at the school, but 33 part-time employees, mostly teaching professionals, will lose their jobs.•

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