New $60 million indoor tennis facility at NTC sets an ‘industry standard’
By Roger Cox
This summer, US Open patrons entering the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center via the East Gate will get their first glimpse of the new indoor complex. The wooden construction wall is down, revealing a dramatic glass-fronted lobby rising three stories to a sloping roof supported by a zigzag of cylindrical pillars. Inside, where nine indoor courts once filled an 85,000-square-foot space in a boxy utilitarian building, now there are 12 courts housed in a 245,000-square-foot multi-purpose structure designed for the 21st century.
Since it opened in 1978, the NTC has had a split personality. For 11 months of the year it is a public tennis facility focused on providing a venue for people to play and programs for growing the game. But for three weeks in August and early September, the 46.5-acre site becomes the setting for the best-attended annual sporting event in the world. So when discussions about expanding the indoor center began, the USTA had to take into account not only what was best for the tournament and the numerous parties involved in staging it, but also what was best for the community.
Tearing down the old building and erecting the new cost $60 million. Trebling the size while keeping to only a slightly larger footprint posed challenges that produced creative solutions. As before, there are nine courts on the main level, though separated now by a carpeted second-story wi-fi enabled lounge, furnished with couches, chairs, tables, and flat-screen TVs and open to views of six courts on one side and three on the other.
There are another three courts on that second level built atop a 15,000-square-foot commissary to serve the Food Court and hospitality and a 10,000-square-foot merchandise warehouse with four truck-loading bays. Viewing for those upper courts is a set of bleachers, unusual for being recessed into the wall a dozen feet above court level and thus take up no floor space. Doors on one side of these upper courts open onto a 15,000-square-foot outdoor terrace. The expansion also made room for a 3,500-square-foot fitness center, larger locker rooms, a 4,500-square-foot retail outlet, several classrooms, and space in the future for a tennis museum.
During the US Open, the indoor facility will be less a tennis club than an entertainment venue. The trio of lower courts will become an interactive tennis theme park called SmashZone and is accessible from outside. The other six lower courts and the outdoor terrace will be hospitality venues. The upstairs courts provide a feature previously unavailable: indoor practice and warm-up space for the pros during inclement weather.
That duality, however efficient, created issues of code compliance and mechanical engineering. Doors and air conditioning sufficient to provide egress and cooling for a few players had to be capable of accommodating as many as 200 hospitality patrons. And then there were environmental considerations. “We spent a lot of time with the New York State energy regulation board to ensure that we were meeting all current standards from an energy-efficient standpoint,” says NTC Managing Director Daniel Zausner. “And we’re getting sizable rebates for the work that we’ve done here.”
For NTC Director of Tennis Whitney Kraft, the new facility has greatly enhanced the depth and variety of programming they can offer. “We’re going to put QuickStart 36- and 60-foot lines on those upper courts to create a kids’ zone and then in spring, summer, and fall expand onto the outdoor terrace with some of the Sport Court systems,” he says. “We also have ambitions of utilizing the classrooms as a Dartfish studio and to take advantage of the fitness center to do cross training and strength conditioning. It enables us, frankly, to increase our participation without having to rely on court space.”
Given the facility’s assets, it will play a role in elite player development. “I think there are really limitless opportunities for us in how we can utilize this facility,” says USTA General Manager of Player Development Patrick McEnroe. But it’s also a model for anyone else looking to enhance their facility.
“It’s an industry standard for how an indoor tennis facility should look and feel and operate,” says Zausner. “We welcome anyone to come here and learn from what we’ve done.”
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About the Author
Roger Cox is the founder of Tennis Resorts Online, an award-winning guide to tennis resorts and camps worldwide.