Blue Chip Investment
A community rallies together to refurbish 24 courts at a park and rec facility in Georgia.
Have you ever fished around in the pockets of your favorite pair of jeans, looking for that wadded up $20 bill you knew was there, somewhere?
Losing $20 dollars isn’t fun. But what if it were $2.3 million? And what if you wouldn’t lose it just once, but annually. $2.3 million, gone, year after year.
The City of Macon, Ga., faced this $2.3 million dilemma a year ago when the USTA Southern Section announced it could no longer award tournament bids to the John Drew Smith Tennis Center because of the condition of the courts. After nearly 30 years of use, it was no surprise they displayed signs of age, with surface cracks, deep cracks, and worst of all, drainage problems. Since these tournaments along with others help pump huge dollars into our local economy every year, losing them would spell disaster for the area.
The cost for fixing 24 age-worn tennis courts? $700,000. Where would that kind of money come from? Macon scrambled to find sources. The ultimate answer was — everywhere!
At first, initial attempts to acquire funding fell victim to political battles. But then things got cranking, and this past May, a year later, there I sat at the rededication ceremony, surrounded by 24 brand-new courts. As the city’s mayor thanked the countless people and organizations that helped make it possible, I admired the new “US Open blue” courts, the black coated fencing and new black windscreens, the new metal benches on each court. It was an electrifying sight, and I couldn’t wait to try my new serve on these courts.
“This is a first for us,” said Marshall Dye, president of Court Makers of Marietta, Ga., the company responsible for our Deco-surfaced courts. “It’s a feather in our cap.” Dye, who began working in the tennis court construction industry some 27 years ago, added, “We’ve never been invited to a rededication ceremony before.”
Macon’s community involvement impressed Dye the most. “So many groups were truly interested in what was going on.” Dye, who has done work for Jimmy Carter and Hank Aaron and whose company is one of the largest in the Southeast, was amazed at the level of professionalism exhibited from the various organizations. “With funding coming from so many sources, everyone wanted a successful outcome,” he said. “People showed up every day to see what was going on.”
Among those giving thanks during the ceremony was Donna Bailey, president of USTA Georgia. She reminded us how the area tennis players had been patient, willing, and understanding while construction took place. Amazingly, league participation actually increased! Matches were relocated to other park and rec courts, but the program was never compromised. Neither were USTA tournaments, which were held on schedule. All park and rec programs, along with Macon Tennis Connect’s programs, never skipped a beat. High school tennis barely noticed the inconvenience. It all speaks volumes for league and program coordinators, for the city’s tennis director, and for the players themselves.
Are new or refurbished courts on your agenda? Carl Hodge, Macon’s tennis director, says follow this plan:
Who’s At Stake?
Identify the stakeholders and pinpoint specific benefits each would reap — as well as the loss each would feel if repairs weren’t made. In Macon, several organizations stood to gain:
- The City of Macon: Every year, the city generated revenue from players coming to the facility, and we’re talking new dollars here.
- Bibb County: While the county holds zero fiscal responsibility, it receives a percentage of tax revenue from retail sales and hotel rentals, as well as the ability to claim such events when enticing folks to move into the area.
- USTA: It generates small fees through TennisLink and claims numbers of participants. These tournaments cap off several of their programs as well as provide a pathway for others.
- Our local CTA’s: Both the Macon Tennis Association and Macon Tennis Connect stand to gain in memberships, fees, etc.
- Private tennis clubs in our community: Since John Drew Smith T.C. is the heart of tennis in Macon, we teach all players, and some feed into the private clubs in the area.
The Paper Trail
Once stakeholders are identified, prepare your reports, presentations, and grants. Providing documentation is crucial.
Macon supplied important information through data collected from tournament players during the check-in process, including the number of participants and where players are staying. The John Drew Smith Center hosts about 20 tournaments a year, and two-thirds of these require hotel information from their players — proof that they are eating, shopping, playing, and spending money in the city.
Building Your ‘Team’
A six-digit price tag guarantees heated discussions. And when it comes to lobbying for money, it all comes down to who you know. Macon recruited tennis players. Who better to sing the praises than those in the trenches?
But in addition, “We interviewed everyone who came through our doors,” said Hodge. “Who is your commissioner? What city council members do you know?
“And the grants,” continued Hodge, “written by a tennis player. She captains a 3.0 tennis team.”
Any News Is Good News
The media, a key element to success, recorded every twist and turn of the tennis center’s path to refurbished courts, including the intense rounds of debates that ensued upon request for such a large sum of money.
Were tennis courts more important than new automobiles for the police force? Among those spotlighting the plights and progress were — you guessed it — tennis players who work for the media: a weekend anchor and reporter for a local TV station, two regular columnists for the local paper, all of whom covered the story extensively.
And it always came back to the money — the $2.3 million the tennis center generates in the local economy. “We competed against new police cars — and won,” said Hodge who was involved in the entire process from start to finish.
With a green light, money was approved and budgeted. Reconstruction started in late November 2006.
In the end, the City of Macon and Bibb County contributed close to $540,000 to the project. The national office of the USTA donated $100,00 through an Adopt-a-Court grant. The Macon Tennis Association raised about $50,000 via various local community grants. Idle Hour Country Club, a local private facility, held a tournament to raise $11,000. And players themselves donated $200 each to purchase 24 of the new metal benches, while Lowe’s Home Improvement donated the remaining 24 benches.
In the words of Larry Fennelly, a longtime tennis player and columnist for The (Macon) Telegraph newspaper: “The achievement at our public tennis facilities is just a small example of what can be accomplished when we join hands and pull together.”
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.