SBD/September 8, 2011/Facilities

Calls Increase For Roof At U.S. Open, But Several Issues Stand In The Way

Size of Arthur Ashe Stadium makes roof difficult structurally and financially

Rain is threatening to cancel a third consecutive day of tennis at the U.S. Open today and has reignited calls for a roof at the National Tennis Center, but the size of the 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium "makes covering it a conundrum for reasons having to do with structural integrity and the bottom line," according to Karen Crouse of the N.Y. TIMES. The $254M stadium opened in '97, and it has been "estimated that a retractable roof would cost at least another $150 million." The top of Ashe Stadium also is "so high and wide that it would require architectural ingenuity to cover it, and even then it would be larger and more obtrusive." However, the "price tag is only part of the consideration" when discussing a roof. The USTA, should it add a roof as part of planned renovations to Louis Armstrong Stadium and the grandstands, "would have to contend with fallout from premium ticket holders and suite occupants reduced on rainy days to watching the action much like the average fans at home, on the televisions in their suites or the giant screen on the court" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/8). In N.Y., Lynn Zinser reported the USTA's plans for a renovation of the National Tennis Center "would cost upwards of $300 million" and reportedly would "involve demolition of Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Grandstand Court, replacing them with separate stadiums, the new Armstrong being 'roof-ready.'" USTA Dir of Corporate Communications Chris Widmaier: "We have discussed a lot of ideas, but I can't say that is the actual plan. Whatever happens, we will be coordinating with the city of New York, which is our landlord." The U.S. Open and the French Open are the only "Grand Slam events with no protection from the weather," but the French Tennis Association's "latest plans to renovate Roland Garros by 2016 include a retractable roof for Philippe Chatrier Court" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/7).

RAISE THE ROOF: SI.com's John Wertheim wrote, "Apart from the prohibitive costs, putting a roof over the mammoth Arthur Ashe Stadium is virtually structurally impossible, I've been told." But putting a "cheaper roof on a smaller court is possible." Wertheim: "It would a) satisfy the television partners who surely aren't happy having to [repeat] matches, and b) unclog the schedule. But the ground beneath Armstrong and the Grandstand is too soggy to accommodate a major construction project" (SI.com, 9/6). ESPN's Chris Fowler asked, "Aren’t there some issues with the foundation? I think you guys could be sinking at Armstrong because they talk about how the water table is rising and you can’t even put a roof over that.” ESPN's Chris Evert: "What people don’t realize is that all the other Grand Slams have a roof, or planning on having a roof. But the U.S. Open -- you know they want to build the biggest stadium for 23,000 people and they had equal prize money first, but why not a roof? It’s structurally impossible” ("U.S. Open," ESPN2, 9/7). The BBC's Jonathan Overend wrote under the header, "US Open Must Take Action And Build A Roof." Overend: "Major tournaments recognise the need for at least one covered show court -- Melboure Park, the venue for the Australian Open, will have three by 2015 -- so hopefully the USTA will acknowledge that building a new Armstrong Court with a roof is not enough" (BBC.co.uk, 9/7).

SEEKING COVER: The subject of a roof was touched on several times by ESPN2's commentators during the net's rain-delayed U.S. Open coverage yesterday. Patrick McEnroe said, "It’s going to be very difficult just financially -- the numbers are there but the USTA is also losing a lot of money now the last couple of the days. So now, when do we reach that tipping point of when it becomes monetarily, they’ve got to do it? They’ve got to find a way to make something of it. Maybe that’s tearing down Arthur Ashe Stadium and building a whole new stadium there, because you can’t put a roof over the grandstand and Louis Armstrong -- even though that’s more feasible -- and not put a roof over Arthur Ashe.” Mary Joe Fernandez said, "When you think of the U.S. Open being the biggest, the greatest event in tennis, they need a roof. I mean, now they almost have to bite the bullet and spend the money. I know it’s a ton, about $200M, but it feels like they’re being left behind because everybody else is ahead of them.” Darren Cahill talked about the benefit a roof to the main stadium at the Australian Open has been and said, "They’re about to put up a third roof over Margaret Court Arena. So it has been a wonderful thing, and also the facility is used for profit, obviously." Cliff Drysdale said, "I’ve lived in Wilmington, N.C., for a long time, and now in Miami, and it seems like every time the U.S. Open comes around, that is the major time for hurricanes in this business. Maybe when they constructed this facility, they should have thought about that” (“U.S. Open,” ESPN2, 9/7).

JUMPING THE GUN: USTA BOD member Jeff Tarango yesterday told BBC Radio 5 of an "imminent plan to remodel Arthur Ashe Stadium on a smaller scale and rebuild Louis Armstrong Stadium, both with retractable roofs." Tarango: "It's called the 'strategic vision' and the plans will be showcased and unleashed very shortly. ... It's a really tough decision but it is in place and all the money is being secured, saved up and taken care of." However, the USTA quickly issued a statement saying the organization "disavows" Tarango's statements (BBC.co.uk, 9/8).

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