Tennis groups seek to save some IUPUI courts

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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.•


  • Enough blame to go around
    I'm not sure what magical powers Mark Miles has, but it's funny how much blame he still gets. As ATP chief his responsibility was for the entire worldwide calendar, not just Indy's little week. And I'm sure the money RCA paid the top players in the event's heyday certainly helped. Blame the tournament staff for not having a post-RCA strategy and maintaining adequate funds for stadium upkeep. Also blame the local fans for not appreciating the fact that, even without the "big names", they still had world-class, professional tennis in their own backyard.
  • age of courts
    Angi, The stadium court along with some of the outdoor courts were built in 1979. The indoor facility/courts were built in 1989.
  • Where is Mark Miles?
    The question is would this even be a discussion if the professional tennis tournament stayed at the caliber it was in 90's and early 2000's? Would IUPUI, the City, and the NCAA have even thought of the idea of demolishing the tennis center if Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Boris Becker, and John McEnroe were still winning the tournament? Where is Mark Miles who has all of the tools necessary to keep tennis in downtown Indy?

    Let's follow the dominos to see what really happened.

    1979 â?? On IUPUIâ??s land, City of Indianapolis builds tennis center and 18 additional courts using $4 million redevelopment bond issue, $1.5 million from Lilly Endowment, and 100 companies pledged $15,000 each for rights to box seats. Total cost of $7 million.

    1999 - NCAA moves to Indianapolis

    2001 - RCA Championships seeks to become a Masters event which would make it the only professional tournament in the U.S. during that week and make itself a major stop on the ATP circuit. ATP does not support idea.

    2002 - ATP releases the 2003 calendar which moves Indianapolis date from end of August to middle of July. The president of the ATP during this decision is none other than Indianapolis's own Mark Miles who also happened to be the former Indianapolis tournamentâ??s director. The new date puts the tournament at a disadvantage because July is typically "down time" for the top ranked players including American players. It also handicaps the event because players from overseas do not want to come to the U.S. so soon because the "North American Hardcourt Season" doesn't end until the US Open in September. No one wants to live out of a suitcase for 2 months straight.

    2002 - RCA Championships sue ATP over date change. ATP responds by saying the date change is in the "best interest of the sport." United States Tennis Association (USTA) stays out of fight.

    2002 - RCA completes event for last time as an event in August. Top 5 players in the world compete and 8 out of top 20. Only 6 Americans in draw.

    2003 - New date of tournament in July. Zero players in top 5 in the world compete. Three out of top 20. 16 Americans in the draw. Tournament has to offer Andy Roddick an appearance fee just to get him to come.

    2004 - NCAA reaches deal with Indianapolis to hold Final Four events, preliminary rounds, and other NCAA events in the city every year. NCAA already outgrowing headquarters as it approaches doubling in size. In return for the deal, the Indiana Sports Corp. will work to secure improvements for NCAA headquarters, including more parking, directional signs around the city, and space to expand.

    2004 - USTA creates US Open Series in an attempt to get more sponsorship money and tv time for tennis tournaments leading up to US Open. USTA labels Indianapolis as the opening event for Series.

    2004 - Thomson SA (which owns RCA brand name) begins selling off business units by partnering with Chinese Company TCL.

    2005 â?? Mark Miles leaves ATP after 15 years and moves back to Indianapolis. Miles begins new role as President of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

    2006 - Thomson SA sells off more business units depleting the Indianapolis workforce and Carmel headquarters. Thomson SA ends sponsorship of RCA Championships and doesn't look back.

    2006 â?? Mark Miles appointed to IUPUIâ??s Board of Advisors for a 6 year term.

    2008 â?? Mark Miles to lead the Indianapolis bid to become the 2012 Super Bowl host city.

    2008 â?? Roger Schmenner, IUPUI Chancellor Charles Bantzâ??s Chief of Staff, describes IUPUIâ??s role with the tennis center as â??its custodianâ?? and goes on to say that â??it is not something that is critical to our sports programs.â?? It is supposedly in need of $8 million to $12 million in upgrades. There is no discussion regarding the broken out cost of upgrading the indoor tennis facility which makes a profit every year and can support itself.

    2009 â?? September, USTA Player Development names Indianapolis Tennis Center as a USTA Certified Regional Training Center.

    2009 â?? October, NCAA announces expansion which will take over the indoor tennis center and the parking lot it shares with NIFS. NIFS parking lot scheduled to be moved to the location of 10 outdoor tennis courts as soon as possible.

    2009 â?? December, ATP buys rights to the Indianapolis Tennis Championships and sells it to Atlanta within 2 weeks. The contract between Indianapolis Tennis Championships and the ATP was supposedly through 2010.

    2009 â?? Week of Christmas, IUPUI requests information from local tennis officials for a sophisticated presentation on why tennis should be kept at IUPUI. The presentation is to take place on January 4th and cannot be rescheduled. Given the Christmas and New Year holidays and their corresponding weekends, many prominent local tennis officials are not able to meet to discuss or provide the information needed to create a sophisticated presentation.

    2010 â?? IUPUI tells the tennis center to stop scheduling anything past August.

    2010 â?? April, IUPUI Chancellor Bantz issues statement saying the complete demolition of the entire tennis facility will take place after this summer. He goes on to say that IUPUI is interested in pursuing opportunities to relocate the tennis center but that IUPUI cannot acquire new land nor commit to new construction expenses at this time.

    As you can tell, I truly believe that the tennis center would not even be considered for demolition if the ATP and Mark Miles did not approve the date change of the tournament in 2002. Itâ??s amazing how a decision in the â??best interest of the sportâ?? could adversely affect the sport itself 8 years later. A decision made in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida just left 900 members, 2 full time employees, and 33 part time employees out in the cold. There is no way that Mark Miles and the ATP board members could have seen this coming. But itâ??s happened, and I think now would be a good time for Mark Miles to step in and support the sport that put $1,863,540 in his pockets just in 2004 through 2005 alone. Where are you Mark???? The sport needs your help one last time...this time it's in your backyard.
  • Preserve, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
    Tennis is the embodiment of healthy body, spirit, and mind. The ITC is a fine,self sustaining facility, with a rich and proud tradition. The ITC clientele is diverse and vibrant, and those who have played there represent the best! What sense does this make? Are we going to continue to be wasteful, even as the oil slushes to our shores?
  • Indoor Tennis
    The rule should be a useful building takes precedence over a lawn or parking lot. IUPUI needs to back off.
  • question
    Can anyone please tell me when the courts were built? Thanks in advance.
  • Sad loss
    ITC's indoor facility is the best around. Good lighting, good court spacing, a nice surface -- just a great place to play indoor tennis. Such a waste that a perfectly good building that runs a self sufficient business will be knocked down. What a rich community we must have that can afford to do this.
  • Adult Woman's Tennis
    For years myself and my friends have played on leagues and teams for ITC competing against other clubs around the city and state. Destroying our facility for another parking lot or green space is tragic for we adults in Indy who played, practiced and took lessons several times a week.

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