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Photo by Christina Anne Costello on Unsplash

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Tennis Advocacy

By Rich Neher

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If the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 taught us one thing, it's that the lack of advocacy resulted in tennis being lumped in with gyms and team sports. Only when research studies surfaced demonstrating that tennis is actually one of the safest sports on the planet did state and local health departments slowly open up our sport for limited play. It is my opinion that a strong and focused advocacy effort would have possibly prevented tennis facilities from being shut down. I don't want to point a finger at whoever dropped the advocacy ball in the past decades. But focusing now on advocacy may help tennis in two ways:

1. Fortify our sport against potential future pandemics with similar shutdowns of economy and society.

2. Finally fight off a decade-old onslaught of soccer moms, baseball dads, and pickleball Ambassadors beating a path to the meetings of planning commissions and city councils to make sure their sports are being favored.

This month we are taking a good look at the Private/Public Partnership that enabled the rebuilding of the Golden Gate Tennis Center into the brand new, and gorgeous Lisa + Douglas Goldman Tennis Center.

 

Our goal is to report about the best advocacy programs and activities, share those with you, and ultimately create a Best Practices type of page for you to always be able to look up what works in certain areas of the country. 

Feel free to email me with your thoughts, suggestions, advocacy ideas, and projects. We'd be happy to post those in our next issue.

PRIVATE/PUBLIC PARTNERSHIPS WAS THE WAY TO GO IN SAN FRANCISCO

We had reported about Private/Public Partnerships in our March 2021 issue (Tennis Clubs of Canada.) The owner/operator of Tennis Clubs of Canada, Terry Redvers, operates 7 clubs with "Bubbles" for winter tennis. The facility in Aurora is unique in that it is a permanent dome that they operate year-round.

Terry writes, "The private/public partners have become quite popular in Canadian municipalities, basically, the town provides the courts and a clubhouse if it’s already there. If it’s in a new plan, some towns will contribute monies toward bringing in the services (heat and hydro). We take care of the rest, the four major capital costs are the dome itself, the lighting, the furnace, and the grade beam (the concrete structure that holds the bubble in place)."

I became so intrigued with the partnership concept, I set out to find more of them. It didn't take long to discover one of the biggest U.S. example for a Private/Public Partnership: San Francisco's Goldman Tennis Center.

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A lot has been written about the Goldman Tennis Center as it is known now. For 120 years it was called the Golden Gate Park Tennis Center. The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, said after the opening,"The Goldman Tennis Center facility honors the incredible history of tennis in Golden Gate Park

 

and provides a place where the next generation of players can learn perseverance, integrity, and fair play." One man said it much better, though. Bill Simons of INSIDE TENNIS, known for his colorful and artful style, gave an in-depth view of the center's history and the players connected to it. He wrote, "Regular folks and weekend warriors had a vision. Initiatives were imagined, plans were made. Inevitably there were wrong turns and dead ends. The message of Stan Wawrinka’s famous Samuel Beckett tattoo – “Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better,” – seemed to resonate. More than once the project came close to tumbling off the rails. But with steely determination, the Golden Gate Park community rallied. Three generations of missionaries stepped up. Their notable resilience propelled a hefty 12- year effort to renew a once glorious center."

Julie Exley

 

A decade ago, people started to dream about renovating Golden Gate Park TC. About five years ago, a Board member of the Tennis Coalition of San Francisco succeeded in getting Lisa and Doug Goldmann interested in the idea. The San Fancisco philanthropists are funding projects that impact the San Francisco community. The Goldmans pledged $6Mio and upfront capital.

Iwas able to talk to the one person who led that project for almost six years, Julie Exley. Interior Designer by trade, Julie came with the reputation of an excellent project manager. She was hired by the TCSF Board to manage the entire project.

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After the Goldman pledge was secured, it took only another year and a half to raise a total of $27Mio including hundreds of small donations and a number of multi-million dollar gifts like Tad Taube's 8 1/2 million.

Julie says, "The partnership we created for TCSF included the SF Recreation & Parks Department, the S.F. Parks Alliance, Livetime Activities (Tennis & Activity Provider), and the Taube Philandrophies. The active support of tennis lover Phil Ginsberg, General Manager of the city's Recreation & Parks Department was instrumental for our success."

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Four acres of hardscape had to be moved to make room for the new facility. 

Julie continues, "We were able to secure sweetheart deals with the city and with Liftime Activities. That enabled us to create a maintenance fund. All lease payments go into that fund for repairs, improvements, and balls."

The rates for the tennis playing SFO community are the lowest in the Bay area: $4 per court per hour.

The facility has 16 tennis courts, 5 pickleball courts, and a clubhouse.

Julie adds, "The USTA was very helpful at national level, especially with the configuration and layout of courts. The USTA NorCal's Hall of Fame gave us $25,000. All the donors are interested in tennis, youth development, and how they can change lives."

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Julie looked at other facilities in San Diego, Denver, the Bronx, and learned they were all private/public partnerships. "We created that partnership between our Board, the community, and the city. And that's really the way to go in the future. It's a wonderful model - provided you have good fundraising people."

When I asked her about the future of the Tennis Coalition in San Francisco, Julie said, "Our future is in stewarding the Goldman Tennis Center and supporting youth tennis. We have also formed TCAC, the Tennis center Advisory Committee to make sure the tennis playing community's needs and concerns have a voice." 

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