EDITORIAL: Loss of tennis tournament an ominous sign for city

December 12, 2009

It’s hard to fathom how Indianapolis lost the Indianapolis Tennis Championships—an event with 90 years of history—without anyone in the city sounding an alarm.

The tennis tournament that started at Woodstock Country Club in 1920 became in the 1970s a critical component of the city’s strategy of using sports as an economic development tool.

IBJ reported Nov. 30 that the tournament is likely to leave Indianapolis in 2010, an unfortunate development confirmed by tournament organizers early this month. Its relatively quiet demise makes us wonder if the city is up to the task of protecting its broad base of sports assets.

The tournament’s longtime home, which opened in 1979 to house what was then the U.S. Open Clay Court Championships, was carved from an old industrial area on the IUPUI campus. It was the first in a string of top-notch venues— including the adjacent IU Natatorium and track and field stadium—built to position the city as a magnet for sporting events of all kinds.

Now the tennis stadium seems destined for the wrecking ball. The university, which has better uses for the land and can’t afford to maintain the facility, also wants to eventually clear away the track stadium, according to a recent campus master plan.

The city’s ability to compete for a range of events in a variety of sports is diminished when key venues and events are allowed to slip away.

It’s not as if the city is standing still on the sports front. It is in line to continue hosting a string of major NCAA championships, including next year’s Men’s Final Four, and of course the 2012 Super Bowl. But the city’s success in attracting such marquee events was built on a foundation formed by the tennis tournament and other lower-profile tournaments and exhibitions that came here more frequently than once-in-a-lifetime or once every four or five years.

Granted, tennis isn’t as popular as it used to be. There are few American stars to drive attendance. But the tournament is apparently viable enough to move to Atlanta, its likely destination.

The loss highlights a major and relatively rapid decline in the city’s stature in the sport. Early this decade, the local tournament was voted by players as their favorite on the men’s professional tennis tour for the 11th year in a row. Its one-time director, Mark Miles, ascended to the level of running the entire ATP tour.

But by all accounts, the city was somehow helpless to prevent this assault on our sports calendar. It’s easy to imagine former Mayor William Hudnut, who was in office when the city’s sports landscape blossomed, rallying the troops and pulling out all the stops to protect the city’s sports turf if faced with the same threat.

In 2010, leadership on a variety of levels seems all too content to let events—and venues—disappear.•


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