The ‘New Home for American Tennis’
The USTA says the tennis facility to be built at Lake Nona in Florida will be a ‘game-changer’ for the sport at every level.
In mid-May, the USTA officially acknowledged what many in the industry had already known: A state-of-the-art tennis facility will be constructed at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., which will have more than 100 courts and house the USTA’s Community Tennis and Player Development divisions. The site is targeted for completion toward the end of 2016.
“This new ‘home for American tennis’ will truly be a game-changer for our sport,” said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Dave Haggerty at a press conference in Orlando on May 14. “This world-class facility will be an inclusive gathering place for American tennis and will allow us to impact our sport at every level, from the grassroots to the professional ranks.”
Haggerty was one of a number of people who spoke at the gathering, which included Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and University of Central Florida President John C. Hitt.
The facility, on 63 acres in the innovative Lake Nona community with easy access to the Orlando airport, will cost about $60 million, according to the USTA. Construction will start in the fall.
The land is being leased long-term “for a nominal payment, essentially free,” said USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith. “One of the important things to note is this is based significantly on some very good incentives to us by the Tavistock Group in Lake Nona and local governments.”
In addition to tax incentives, the USTA also is receiving grants from the state for transportation construction purposes. Tavistock Group is an international private investment organization behind the master-planned development at Lake Nona.
Tennis Gathering Place?
“Our vision is that this would be a fantastic place for other tennis-related companies or sports companies to relocate to because of what is here in Lake Nona,” Haggerty said.
There already has been speculation that some tennis organizations, including possibly the USTA Florida Section, may move to or maintain a presence at Lake Nona. There also has been talk of helping to start a Professional Tennis Management program at nearby University of Central Florida, which will have use of hard courts for its men’s and women’s teams.
USTA Player Development, currently based at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., will move to Lake Nona after the current lease is up in a couple of years, said USTA General Manager of Player Development Patrick McEnroe. “I think it’s safe to say we will have a presence still in New York at the National Tennis Center, and we will have some presence in Southern Cal. We’ll have the next year or so to really look into that and evaluate what is going to work best.”
“We really see a great advantage for not just Player Development, but for developing players, American players, which is why we’ve given it a working name of ‘the Home of American Tennis,’” Haggerty said. The USTA is hoping more than 100,000 people will be using the facility throughout the year.
“This will … address American tennis broadly from community tennis,” Smith added. “Our entire Community Tennis department will move here. We’ll be doing events here, league championships, we’ll have a collegiate facility, we’ll be doing all kinds of training here.”
About 150 USTA staff positions will be relocated to Lake Nona from the USTA’s headquarters in White Plains, N.Y., and from Boca Raton. Smith said there will still be “a substantial continuing presence in New York,” not just for the US Open and the National Tennis Center, but for many USTA shared services, sponsorship and marketing. The USTA corporate headquarters will remain in New York.
Going Beyond Player Development
Virgil Christian, the USTA’s senior director of market/facility development and collegiate tennis, said the process that led to this new complex started about three years ago, discussing ways to find more courts for Player Development, since the Evert facility had limited space with no expansion possibilities. “Then it started to grow,” he added. “As we started talking to cities and communities, it became apparent there was more to it than just Player Development.”
The USTA did consider other areas for locating the new facility, but were pulled to Lake Nona, said Smith, by “the combination of government support, University of Central Florida, the type of development that the Tavistock Group has here — all those things really set Lake Nona and Orlando apart from any of the other competitors. In the end, it was a very easy decision for us.”
One attraction is the innovative and collaborative community being created at Lake Nona by the Tavistock Group. Lake Nona started as a residential project, but in the last decade focus has shifted to the pioneering Lake Nona Medical City, a carefully planned, 650-acre health and life sciences park. Medical facilities include the UCF Health Sciences Campus, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, VA Medical Center, Nemours Children’s Hospital, and University of Florida Academic & Research Center.
‘No Limits’ Tech Infrastructure
Currently, there are about 3,000 occupied homes at Lake Nona, which covers more than 7,000 acres. Thad Seymour, senior vice president of Lake Nona/Tavistock Group, said they expect to have 11,000 homes of all sizes in the next decade. There will also be a new commercial district, along with hotels that will ultimately provide about 2,000 rooms. Seymour says Tavistock is creating a “technology infrastructure with ‘no limits,’” including a fiber and wireless network into every home that will be unmatched in terms of speed.
It is hoped that the USTA presence in Lake Nona will serve as an anchor for a “world-class sports performance district,” added Seymour, which could expand to more than 100 acres.
Christian said the facility will include not only courts with blended lines, but standalone 36- and 60-foot courts. “We do want to see some Pro Circuit events find a home here, especially some clay events,” he said. “We hope to play national tournaments here, and hope to start some new events. And we’d love to see folks from other countries come in and play. I think you’ll see a wide variety of events and players using this facility.
“This will be unlike any facility,” he added. “The stuff that’s going to happen here has never been done before in terms of technology.”
“Basically,” said Smith, “we’ve been delivering on our mission — which is to promote and develop the growth of tennis — from a glass office building in Westchester County. Now we’re going to be delivering the mission from Orlando, Florida, with the finest facility in the country. It will be a real game-changer.”
Breaking Down the Tennis Facility at Lake Nona
The USTA is collaborating with Lake Nona and Tavistock Group, along with a consortium of regional and state partners. The complex will be located on 63 acres of land and will include:
- Tournament and League Area: 24 clay courts and 16 hard courts, two player pavilions, a tournament administration office with trainer rooms, a stringer area, player lounge, public restrooms, and a check-in area.
- Collegiate Tennis Area: 12 hard courts and a future tournament show court. Will serve as the home of the University of Central Florida’s men’s and women’s varsity tennis program. The courts will have high-mast lighting for televised events and elevated seating for 1,200, with room on the ends for additional seating. The area will allow two collegiate matches to be played simultaneously. A two-story pavilion will house concessions, restrooms, locker rooms, and areas for trainers and officials.
- Team USA Area: Eight hard and eight clay courts, to be utilized by the 17 USTA Sections along with coaches and their players to work collaboratively with USTA Player Development.
- High Performance and Player Development Area: Eight hard courts, eight red clay courts and six covered courts for USTA Player Development. Dormitories can house 32 boys and girls. The strength and conditioning area will include a sand and workout area.
- 36/60-Foot Tennis: Eight 36-foot and eight 60-foot courts for youth and adults.
- USTA Office Building: Ground floor will include a pro shop, fitness area, locker rooms, player lounge and cafeteria. USTA offices will be on the second and third floors.
- Technology: The USTA says the facility will be an epicenter for tennis innovation and education, incorporating the latest technology for players, coaches and spectators.