By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – Each year more than 700,000 fans attend the US Open to watch world-class tennis at one of the preeminent sporting events in the world. Indeed, there is nothing quite like the US Open experience and over the next few years, that experience should become even better.
The USTA, along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Queens officials today announced a new strategic vision for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a vision which includes a series of construction projects designed to enhance the US Open and its fan and player experience. Heading up that slate of proposed improvements are the rebuilding of Louis Armstrong Stadium and the building of a new Grandstand Stadium in the southwest corner of the property.
The goal of these improvements is to replace aging facilities, provide a superior experience for the pros who compete at the Open and enhance year-round conditions for recreational players at the NTC. These improvements also will ease pedestrian congestion during the US Open, improving the safety and comfort of all visitors, while still allowing for up to 10,000 more fans each day to attend the US Open.
Once complete, these enhancements will continue to cement the tournament’s status as a top international sporting event, as well as support the USTA’s overall mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis. They also will ensure that the US Open and the facility continue to provide substantial economic benefits to the City of New York.
"The US Open is one of the city’s greatest sporting events, and it generates more than $750 million a year in economic activity," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The city recognizes the crucial need to improve the USTA facility and supports this vision so that the Center remains a top-ranked tennis venue capable of hosting the US Open and thereby allowing the tournament to remain in New York City for many decades."
Situated on approximately 42 acres, the NTC is one of the world’s largest public recreational tennis facilities, with indoor and outdoor amenities open for public use throughout most of the calendar year, hosting approximately 100,000 patrons.
USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith noted that these enhancements will help the US Open—already the best-attended annual sporting event in the world—continue to grow, which in turn helps the USTA continue its mission to grow the game at every level.
"We are facing an aging facility with aging stadiums," Smith said. "[The NTC] pretty much needs a complete overhaul. We need to make sure the US Open continues to be one of the preeminent sporting events in the world [and] we need to keep it being the economic driver for the city of New York.
"We need for it to continue to be a world-class recreational tennis facility that serves almost 100,000 people a year and perhaps most importantly, we need it to help fund our mission," he added. "The US Open is a great advertisement for the city of New York, for tennis and for the USTA."
Construction on the first phase of enhancements is slated to begin in the fall of 2013 and will take six to eight years to complete. Most construction will take place between each year’s US Open, and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium will be built in a phased approach, ensuring that it will be available for play during the tournament.
The first project undertaken will be to rebuild the popular practice court area. This phase also will include the construction of a new, two-level elevated viewing platform between the practice and playing areas, allowing up to 1,000 fans to watch their favorite players warm up and compete. A third tournament court will also be added to the area, while the two current ones will be redone.
During this first phase, two parking lots closest to the facility will be replaced with multi-level parking garages. Work will then start on replacing the popular and fan-cozy Grandstand. A favorite of many fans for its intimate setting , the Grandstand was built as part of the 1964-65 World’s Fair Singer Bowl,(as was Louis Armstrong Stadium). Both facilities have reached the end of their useful lives.
The new Grandstand will be an 8,000 seat stadium in the southwest corner of the site, which should help the flow of people traffic through the site, and a new walkway will be constructed leading to the new stadium to help fan congestion, which will connect straight over to Court 17. This will in part be accomplished by moving four tournament courts on the southern portion of the site approximately 50 feet to the south and moving three others approximately 30 feet to the south and new bleacher seating will be constructed.
Moving the Grandstand here will slightly divert car traffic along the facility, as the connector road between United Nations Avenue and Meridian Road, will be relocated to the area south of United Nations Avenue North near the Queens Museum of Art parking lot, and new pedestrian walkways will be created.
Various cosmetic improvements also will be made to Arthur Ashe Stadium, which was opened in 1997. A roof for Ashe is not part of the current plan.
The final phase of the project will be replacing Louis Armstrong Stadium, which currently holds about 10,000 fans. In a phased approach, a new 15,000 seat stadium will take its place on the same site, with the infrastructure in place to support a roof at a later date. Just like the current facility, the new Armstrong Stadium will have concession, retail, broadcasting and administrative space. A new building will be constructed adjacent to the old Grandstand space, for administrative and retail use.
Danny Zausner, the Managing Director of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, emphasized that NTC programming will continue throughout the construction project for recreational players. Both the NTC’s outdoor courts as well as courts in the Indoor Training Center will be available for public use.
"It is a significantly phased approach; a lot of this work will this take place between US Opens," said Zausner. "At no point will we ever close down our programs. In each year [of the project] there will always be a complement of indoor and outdoor courts as well as the existing four stadiums that will be available."
"[This project] allows for an improved experience and maintains the US Open and its facility as world class in every way," Smith said. "We know all the other Grand Slams are entering into large capital improvement programs. Wimbledon has just completed a large program, the French Open has announced one as has the Australian Open and we need to move as well to maintain our status among the Grand Slam tournaments."