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Funding scarce for Troy Park Tennis Center

The future of the Troy Park Tennis Center, envisioned as Maryland's largest tennis facility, has grown murky as advocates continue to search for hard-to-find funding five years after the $44 million undertaking was first proposed.

The 8,000-seat tennis stadium was expected to be finished this summer, but has been delayed by a lack of funding. That delay, in turn, has put off construction of Troy Hill Regional Park, a separate 24-acre multi-million-dollar capital project in Elkridge, that is to be home to the tennis center.

County officials say they can't move forward with plans to build the park without knowing for certain if the center will be built.

"Until we know more in that direction, we're hesitant to start the park development project, because it could change," Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks Director John Byrd said. "We just want to make sure that whatever project we move forward with is the right one, that it's going to be economically viable and that it's going to fit in with the rest of the uses of the community park."

When the Howard County Tennis Patrons, the group that is spearheading the center, asked County Executive Ken Ulman for funding for the tennis center, Ulman asked that the Maryland Stadium Authority verify the proposed center's profitability before the county committed money.

The Maryland Stadium Authority accepted Ulman's request June 14. Budget committees from the state Senate and House of Delegates, which meet year-round, must also approve the study because it uses $35,000 in state funds.

Gary McGuigan, a project executive with the Stadium Authority, said the study will begin immediately after the budget committees' anticipated approval, which is expected within the next month, and the study will be completed "sometime this winter."

Art Tollick, president of the Tennis Patrons, said financing for the center has been an unexpectedly difficult struggle. Over the past year, the group has looked for both private and public funding.

Tennis Patrons has raised $1.3 million in the past four years, which was used to pay for pre-construction expenses. However, that sum is a far short of the total $44 million needed to complete the project.

Tollick couldn't begin searching for funding until the Tennis Patrons finalized a 40-year lease with the county for 14 acres inside Troy Hill park in August 2010. The lease negotiating process took more than a year.

"The process has taken far longer to work through than we hoped or anticipated, (which) has then led us to the current economic times and lending being a little more difficult to secure these days," said Lynn Coddington, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the U.S. Tennis Association.

Supporters agree that if the center were to receive a positive review from the Stadium Authority, funding will be much easier to obtain. Quick funding will be necessary because the county can terminate the Tennis Patrons' lease if the group doesn't have funding commitments within a month of the study's completion.

"The fact that the Stadium Authority is even willing to lend its name to get the study done is really good news," said Del. Guy Guzzone, a Columbia Democrat whose district includes the site for the proposed center. "With the study in hand from the Stadium Authority, they'll be able to shop around for some funding."

Host of amenities

If built, the complex will include 18 outdoor and 12 indoor courts, an 8,000-seat multi-sport stadium — the 10th largest tennis-specific venue in the country, Tollick said — with a DecoTurf surface (the same surface used for the U.S. Open), a 2,500-seat exhibition court, a clubhouse and offices for the U.S. Tennis Association. Construction is expected to take two years.

When built, Tollick expects the center to host the Mid-Atlantic Women's Tennis Championships, an international-level event in the Women's Tennis Association. This year, the tournament is being played July 23-31 in College Park. He also also said it could attract a U.S. Open tune-up or qualifying tournament. Additionally, the uncovered 8,000-seat stadium can be used for beach volleyball and basketball tournaments, Tollick said.

A 2008 feasibility conducted at the request of the Tennis Patrons determined that in its first three years, the center's event facilities — the large stadiums — would yield 174,730 visitors and 78,340 one-night hotel stays, bringing in more than $54 million to the surrounding area.

That study predicted that the center would make an average of $5.5 million in ticket profits each of its first three years, which would translate into about $611,000 in ticket tax revenue for the county.

"There is no risk," Tollick said. "Our numbers show that there's plenty of income to support any financing. They show a great positive economic impact not only to the county, but to the state."

"We're confident it will happen eventually. ... The question is whether there is any financial support from a government entity, or will we have to use just our own credit," Tollick said.

Laura Newman, recently appointed director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said that while there's a "difficult economic climate right now," the tennis center will likely bring a lot of business to the county.

"It's a very impressive plan they put together, it's a well-thought-out plan," Newman said. "From an economic development perspective, I don't think there are any question about whether it would bring business to the county."

County funding possible

Byrd said that if the results of the Stadium Authority's study are favorable, the county will likely take a second look at partially funding the project.

"We're hoping it validates all of Art's hard work," Byrd said. Byrd agreed with Tollick that the center "would be a great asset to the county economically" and said it would "enhance" the county's "ability to promote tennis."

"It's a great location, obviously, with the access to I-95 and Route 100 and being in between Washington and Baltimore," Byrd said of the center. If built, the center will be located at 9500 Mansion Lane, which is less than a mile off of Route 1.

Coddington said that the center would please Howard County tennis players, who feel there aren't enough public courts in the county.

"There are not enough courts to meet the population of tennis players in Howard County," Coddington said. "It would really be a boon and help tennis grow in Howard County as well as in the region."

Of the plans for the center, Coddington said there is "nothing comparable" in the state. She said that currently, most regional competitions are played out of state.

"Our players are often having to travel to Virginia to compete in regional tournaments, so we'd love to have them in Maryland and showcase Maryland and have a regional advantage," she said.

Guzzone, who has supported the center since it was proposed in 2006, said that he is hopeful the Stadium Authority will back it.

"This is a big project and it's a complicated project, but I think it's one that will be quite a feather in our cap should we be able to pull it off," he said. "To have that kind of facility that will attract the major names in professional tennis is a big deal."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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