Nov/10

15

USTA Remodels U.S. Open

The US Open is  undergoing remodeling that will change the landscape of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

The USTA is breaking ground on a new 3,000-seat mini-stadium next to its indoor facility. The new stadium could be completed in time for the 2011 or 2012 US Open. Louis Armstrong Stadium will eventually be torn down and rebuilt, but adding a roof to the 22,547-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium is unlikely because of the cost and the fact Ashe is built on a former ash dump and cannot support the weight of a conventional roof as currently constructed.

The estimated $300 million renovation, which was approved by the USTA Board of Directors last month, will not include a roof over any of the planned stadiums though the USTA reports the rebuilt Armstrong stadium will be “roof ready” according to a SportsBusiness Journal report written by Terry Lefton.

“We will continue over the next 10 years to research a roof over Arthur Ashe,” USTA President Lucy Garvin told SportsBusiness Journal. “It remains technologically and financially challenging, but we are going to continue to research the technology that may allow for a roof.”

The USTA has budgeted $30 million for the entire project, which is managed by architectural firm Rossetti.

The new Armstrong Stadium will not be built for another six to eight years as the USTA works out its financing for the NTC reconstruction. National Tennis Center Managing Director Danny Zausner told SportsBusiness Journal the project may well be funded as Ashe Stadium was financed “selling tax-exempt bonds through the Industrial Development Agency, a public bond conduit.”

Among the plans for redevelopment:

  • The current 10,200-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium, and the 6,100-seat Grandstand Court connected to it, will both be torn down. A new 10,000-15,000 Louis Armstrong Stadium will be built where the current Armstrong Stadium stands.
  • The new 3,000-seat mini stadium, designed to offer a more intimate view of matches, could be completed in 2011 or 2012 followed by another mini-stadium whose location has not yet been determined though it could be built where the current Grandstand Court stands.
  • Construction will begin to widen Arthur Ashe Stadium’s upper levels to add more restrooms and concession stands.
  • The USTA hopes the new mini-stadium’s location will divert pedestrian traffic and alleviate some current congestion that exists outside the stadiums and near the food court.

There has long been speculation the USTA, which prides the US Open on being the most progressive of the four majors, would consider adding a roof to Ashe. The USTA makes its big bucks from the corporate boxes in Ashe, so it will be interesting to see the scope of luxury boxes in the new Armstrong Stadium.

The fact remains the USTA is now committed to both expanding its recreational player base and developing professional players and throwing the estimated $150 million it would cost to cap Ashe Stadium with a roof that may be rarely used does not further either of those aims. Consider that before 2008, the last time rain forced a Monday men’s final was 1987 and before that 1974.

On the other hand, when you consider both the Australian Open and Wimbledon already have a roof over their center courts and the French Tennis Federation announced it plans to complete work on a retractable roof in time for the 2013 or 2014 French Open then the US Open, which has always prided itself on being the most progressive of the four majors, will be decidedly behind the times and exposed to the elements and continued criticism if it continues to bill itself as a world-class sporting event yet lacks the basic facility to fulfill its stated schedule.

The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center was built on landfill, as Flushing Meadows–Corona Park was once an ash dump. It is not certain Arthur Ashe Stadium, as currently constructed, could support the weight of a conventional roof (a retractable roof as Wimbledon has might be a different story though pursuing that evenue comes with its own challenges including climate control), unless the foundation of the stadium was strengthened. Additionally, Zausner told SBJ that Armstrong is also built on the landfill and likely cannot be bigger than 15,000 seats or it too would be unable to support the weight of a proposed roof.

When Ashe Stadium was initially constructed at a cost of $254 million in 1997, the question of constructing roof was raised, however USTA officials said then the additional cost of a roof did not make sense to add a roof given the Open is contested only two weeks out of the year. Had officials had the foresight to see the potential for Davis Cup matches, indoor exhibitions and non-tennis events including concerts and other sporting events, then perhaps they could have envisioned a multi-purpose facility with a roof that seated 16,000-17,000 fans, which conceivably could have kept construction costs down.

Though officials cannot admit it publicly, the bottom line is everyone is now paying the price for the short-sighted mistake the USTA made in initially green-lighting the monstrosity that is Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Given the fact there are several indoor arenas in the New York Area — Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, the Prudential Center —there is now competition for hosting non-tennis events in the metropolitan area. Arthur Ashe Stadium once host an outdoor WNBA game and there were rumors the USTA had preliminary discussions about doing more events, but with the New Jersey Nets planning to move to a new state-of-the-art arena in Brooklyn, right across the Brooklyn Bridge from New York’s City Hall, there will be multiple venues in the area in the coming years.

Rather than building a new roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is regarded as too big for tennis anyway, the USTA plans to make the new Armstrong Stadium “roof ready” which means eventually adding a roof to it would be easier and less expensive than trying to cap Ashe.

While a smaller Armstrong Stadium with a roof would presumably provide better sight lines for fans if the new Armstrong is 8,000 to 10,000 seats smaller than Ashe then how would the USTA accommodate all ticket holds in Ashe if a match was rained out and moved indoors?

The USTA recently spent $60 million to build a 245,000 square foot indoor building on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that opened in December of 2008. The new construction project is estimated to cost five times more.

On a visit to the NTC yesterday, a fence has been erected right outside the East Gate.

This article was initially published on www.tenninsow.com.

12 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    Bittersweet news. Going to miss that old historic grandstand and also Armstrong too. Tearing down Yankee Stadium, Giants stadium, and those two historic tennis courts, just doesn’t seem right. Why not keep and build the new mini stadium in that open area next to court 18 and the indoor center?

  • vinko · November 16, 2010 at 2:30 am

    It never made sense to tear down the upper deck of Armstrong when Ashe came along. Had they left Armstrong’s upper deck there would be enough room for everyone to see matches there on the second weekend of the Open. Now only a small portion of the spectators can get in during a desirable match. Also, why don’t they do anything to preserve the classic stadium at the West Side Tennis Club. There is a move to tear that down and make it condoa.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 16, 2010 at 2:41 am

    Heard they voted it down and the FHills Stadium shall live on Vinko. Agree about grandstand and Armstrong, they serve their purpose well.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Re: Forest Hills, it is a true shame that stadium has been allowed to decay. Think of all the history made there and when you go there and walk around, you’re reminded of how intimate that stadium was.
    I’ve been told by people involved that Forest Hills stadium has fallen into such a state of disrepair it would just cost far too much to fix it. NY Times has been following the story of the condo development plan and last article I read was that West Side had shot down the latest bid for the stadium. Developers said they would try to keep some of the existing facade of the stadium and incorporate it into the condo complex development.
    Maybe I’m too sentimental, but the thought of that stadium becoming condos is disheartening, but then again look what happened to other NYC Sports landmarks like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field. The other point is the land is so valuable you have to think at some point it will be developed though I can see neighbors wanting to stop it as well just because of the increase in people/traffic.
    Such a beautiful site. Used to play there a little on the har tru and would imagine all of the legends making that walk from the club to the stadium right through the fans (this was back in the days when you didn’t need to worry as much about some nutcase jumping out the crowd and going after players). I miss that about the US Open – remember the days before Ashe Stadium when the players would make that long walk through the crowd like boxers entering the ring and fans would be squeezing them on both sides yelling encouragement. So dramatic, so cool so uniquely US Open, but obviously a security issue as well so understand why they no longer do it.
    Interviewed Virginia Wade a few years back on the anniversary of her first US Open win over Billie Jean King at Forest Hills. Virgina said it had rained so hard and the grass was so soggy they brought in helicopters to hover over the court in an effort to dry it. She said conditions dictated her tactics: she knew the court was in bad shape and bounces would be unruly at best so she resolved to getting to net before BJK did.
    The other thing is I love how in the club they still have all the vintage black-and-white action photos of the past champions on that wood-paneled wall in the lobby entrance. Seeing Althea Gibson, Trabert, Gonzalez, Maureen Connolly, Laver, etc. just such a great reminder of how amazing all those champions were and how stylish too.
    Looking at those photos reminds me of the classic Red Smith line about going to Saratoga: “From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years.”

  • vinko · November 17, 2010 at 12:12 am

    It will be a shame if that West Side TC stadium comes down. The save our stadium facebook page has some beautiful photographs. The modern stadiums have nothing like those arches and eagles at the old place. Aside from Fenway Park and Wrigley Field there is nothing left from that era.

  • Richard Pagliaro · November 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    It’s another reason I always urge fans to go to Newport to the Tennis Hall of Fame. I think it gets overlooked sometimes because it’s not as big or as well-known as Baseball hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but always love going there to see the grass courts, how intimate the stadium is, the exhibits, etc.
    When I ask current and former pros their favorite courts, many have told me Monte Carlo is one of the most beautiful courts in the world to play because of spectacular view, the way it’s built, etc. I have never been there.

  • vinko · November 19, 2010 at 3:13 am

    They have some incredible items at the Hall of Fame from Big Bill Tilden’s rackets to Guga’s clay covered shoes from his french open win.

  • Dobey · November 20, 2010 at 3:52 am

    RP, I found some videos of the court in Monte Carlo on youtube. It is a spectacular venue. I would love to watch a match there. I agree with Vinko about the stadium at Forest Hills. There are some things worth preserving. The Romans and Italians had the good sense never to tear down the Roman Coliseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa still leans although it has no practical use. Of course those are both tremedous profit centers as they bring millions of people to Italy.
    The stadium at the West Side Tennis Club sits on private property on a private club and has no current value as a tourist destination. But maybe that could change. The members of the club could charge an admission fee and let tourists wander around the stadium and take photos and even maybe let tourists go on the court and take photos and get the experience of playing tennis where Laver and Ashe and Tilden and Gonzalez and Budge and Kramer all played. It just might work! Baseball fans still go to the Field of Dreams in Iowas. For us tennis fans, this is our Field of Dreams!

  • Michael Perlman, Chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council · November 20, 2010 at 5:58 am

    Those who feel enthusiastic about preserving and reusing the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium as a mixed-use venture, should visit the Rego-Forest Preservation Council Blog, and join the Facebook Group for “Rego-Forest Preservation Council” and “S.O.S. (Save Our Stadium!).”

    I am spearheading the landmarking and creative reuse campaign. Achieving a combination of city, state, and federal landmark status can serve as a catalyst for historically-sensitive creative reuse, since it opens the door to funding for restoration and necessary upgrades.

    Everyone, please compose a letter to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging a public hearing in the utmost. Your letter can be brief.

    The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium was once referred to as America’s Tennis Stadium in a vintage ad featuring the builder, The Foundation Co, & award-winning Architect Kenneth Murchison. It was proven throughout its long reign, and can be a viable entity once again, and far exceed the historic and monetary worth of any condos. Therefore, the greater public should have a say in its future.

    Please base your letter on the following link:

    http://regoforestpreservation.blogspot.com/2010/11/landmark-campaign-for-forest-hills.html

    http://regoforestpreservation.blogspot.com for updates on the stadium campaign.

    Please tell all your friends and colleagues to write e-mails too. We need ALL the help we can get to spare an iconic site. Thank you!

    – Michael Perlman
    unlockthevault@hotmail.com

  • Sid Bachrach · November 21, 2010 at 4:13 am

    Regarding Michael’s post above, the stadium has an important history in the City of New York’s rock and roll history. The Beatles played two concerts there in April, 1964. I found a photo of a ticket on the web and tickets were $3.50 and $6.00! In 1972, The Who played a concert there. I tried to find video on youtube of either the Beatles or Who shows at the Stadium but found nothing on the Beatles at Forest Hills but there are some still photos of the Who concert and some audio. That’s the best that I can do.
    By today’s standards, there would be some problems with the fire code if you had a full house at a pop concert at the stadium. There are not that many ways to get down from the top, especially in a crowd. But that sure as heck does not mean that the stadium is not worth preserving. The architecture is priceless and the history is fantastic.

  • Michael · July 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Yes, this has been the rumor since at least as early as last years Open. And it’s not good news.

    @Vinko “It never made sense to tear down the upper deck of Armstrong when Ashe came along.”

    I thought removing the red section from Armstrong and adding seat backs to all the seats was one of the positive changes they made (out of many negatives over the years the biggest being the abomination referred to as Ashe stadium. Though the brick structure on the field courts was head scratching from the get go. They block a good chunk of seats from being able to see both sides of the court.

    Anyway, Armstrong went from roughly 18,000 to around 10-11,000 where it is now and it’s a much more lively court. Much better than Ashe.

    If you recall it used to be quite dead in the old Armstrong after Ashe went up. The middle section were benches (not too comfortable…). Now it’s one of the premier courts in tennis and when it’s good a far better atmosphere than Ashe provides. The Armstrong/GS combo are two of the great courts in tennis. So of course they have to go. (-:

    I still miss the original court 3 and the zigzag incline up to Armstrong that overlooked court 3. And the smoke wafting over from that hamburger grill. Ah, the good ol’ days.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 22, 2011 at 3:18 am

    Yes that hamburger smell in the grandstand corner, ah those were the days, Alan King sat over there and Dick Vitale too. Michael do you remember Connors ever playing on that court?

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