Facilities: The Inside Story
Thanks in large part to the vision of former USTA President Alan Schwartz, the NTC’s Indoor Training Center has proven to be a year-round boon for tennis.
By Mark Preston
For two late-summer weeks each year, as the world’s sporting spotlight shines on the US Open, the center of the tennis universe is Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. But if Ashe Stadium, which opened in 1997, is the centerpiece of the NTC, there is another structure just a short stroll away that has had an equally large impact on the US Open and the sport of tennis.
Since it opened its doors in late 2008, the NTC’s Indoor Training Center (ITC) has proven to be a versatile, valuable asset to the Open, the community, the sport, and the USTA. From producing increased sponsorship and hospitality opportunities during the Open to providing unprecedented access and myriad opportunities for players of all ages and ability levels to play and enjoy the sport year-round, the ITC plays a significant role in helping to grow the game.
Situated just inside the East Gate of the NTC, the 12-court, 245,000-square-foot ITC is three times the size of the original indoor structure that had previously occupied the space. The old nine-court building had already become an anachronism when former USTA President Alan Schwartz first was called in to visit the site and provide his opinion on what the USTA might do to improve the facility. That was years before Schwartz was a member of the USTA Board, but the association called him in based on his expertise as the owner and operator of the successful Midtown Group of tennis clubs.
“I remember writing the USTA a report,” recalls Schwartz with a laugh. “I know I had some ideas in there for improvements, but I think my best suggestion was that they tear it down and start from scratch.”
Years later, first as a USTA Board member and then as USTA President, Schwartz was instrumental in accomplishing just that. He spearheaded the USTA’s effort to secure the needed financing for construction of a new building that would provide the association with more than just a place to house courts.
“The idea,” says Schwartz, “was that the funds would be designated for building an indoor facility in which indoor tennis would be just one component of an extremely versatile structure that would also include areas for high-performance training, corporate entertaining, an indoor commissary for food concessions, retail concessions and more. I know the Board recognized the inadequacies of the existing building — it just wasn’t producing the revenues or attracting the number of people it should and that we needed in order to grow the sport.”
From Dream to Reality
Over the course of the administrations of USTA Presidents Schwartz, Franklin Johnson, and Jane Brown Grimes, plans began to take shape, and the dream of a new facility eventually became a reality. Schwartz is quick to mention that there were many volunteers and staff who had a hand in shaping that reality, but he singles out the commitment of Danny Zausner, the NTC’s Managing Director of Facility Operations, for meeting with various city and parks commissions and neighborhood groups to work through issues. Schwartz also points to the dedication of the NTC’s Director of Capital Projects and Engineering, Chuck Jettmar, whose work on Arthur Ashe Stadium had familiarized him with the many engineering issues that would go along with a project of this magnitude.
Today, the facility is a world-class structure that has gone a long way toward increasing participation in tennis and improving the USTA’s bottom line. During the US Open, it is an epicenter of activity, housing the USTA’s corporate hospitality program on six of the indoor courts. Numerous US Open sponsors, including Heineken, Chase and American Express, also have taken advantage of the increased and improved space the ITC provides during the Open. During the tournament, the ITC also is home to the USTA Bookstore, International Tennis Hall of Fame Gallery and USTA Membership Center, and it also houses the staff and equipment for the USOpen.org website.
Players can utilize the ITC’s indoor courts for practice during inclement weather, and junior tournament competitors can use the ITC’s locker rooms and training facilities. Retailer FMI’s $16 million merchandise program is housed in the ITC, and its 10,000-square-foot food commissary has allowed the USTA to significantly upgrade the presentation of the food served in the Food Village and to serve more fans per hour.
But for all of its many uses during the Open, the ITC’s most important use — and its greatest success — is in providing a world-class tennis facility for players of all ages and abilities. From 6 a.m. until midnight, 11 months out of the year, the 12 courts are hotbeds of tennis activity. Add to that the classroom space, world-class fitness facilities and locker rooms, and it’s easy to see why the number of people playing tennis there has increased significantly in the years since it opened.
The numbers tell an impressive story: During the old building’s last year of operation in 2008, it brought in $1.9 million in revenue. In 2011, the new building accounted for $3.6 million — an 88 percent increase. Adult programming at the ITC is up 97 percent over that same period, and junior programming has risen by 23 percent. Private lessons have more than doubled over the last three years, and attendance at summer camps is up 51 percent.
“The building has provided us with an opportunity to serve more existing players and to get more new players into the game,” says Zausner. “Its size and versatility have opened doors to new opportunities that we never could have realized with the old facility.”
The old building never would have been able to accommodate the number of programs offered now — for children (all 12 courts are lined for 10 and Under Tennis), juniors, adults, seniors, wheelchair and college players. There is tournament play, USTA League play, special events and charitable fundraisers. Several local colleges and universities call these courts home. USTA Player Development also utilizes the ITC and its many world-class amenities.
“We were the first Grand Slam tournament to develop a significant indoor presence with the same playing surface qualities as the outside courts,” notes USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith. “With the ITC, we now have a building that has exceeded our expectations in every way 365 days a year and that is aesthetically spectacular.”
In a ceremony on Sept. 6, during the 2012 US Open, USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jon Vegosen dedicated a plaque to Schwartz just outside the main entrance to the ITC. “His vision, leadership and expertise made this facility a reality,” the plaque reads.
“This building has allowed us to be a hub for tennis activity all year round,” says Vegosen. “It has been an invaluable addition and an incredible asset — both for the US Open and for us to be able to make tennis more accessible to more people.”