Columbia Association planning indoor tennis facility for SportsPark

The Columbia Association has begun planning a $3.5-million indoor tennis facility that is expected to open in 2015.

CA Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldman said the six-court facility would be built adjacent to the Columbia SportsPark in Harper's Choice.

"We have a very robust tennis program, one of the most active tennis programs in the state," Goldman said.

Currently, CA operates nine indoor courts, four at the Columbia Athletic Club and five at the tennis bubble in Owen Brown.

The primary use of the indoor courts occurs during winter, for United States Tennis Association adult leagues, personal training, and block time, which is independently purchased by groups of players.

According to Brad Harris, chair of CA's tennis committee, there is a demand for more indoor courts in Columbia.

"It's like Redskins tickets used to be, someone had to die or you had to marry into a family to get it," Harris said. "You have to really know somebody to get court time, it's such a precious commodity. That's why we need the additional six on top of what we have now."

Goldman said the results of a recent tennis feasibility study, completed in November of 2012, support Harris' claim.

"The tennis bubble and Columbia Athletic Club are pretty much filled during prime time (in the winter), so there are lots of tennis players that drive to Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Frederick and Baltimore County to play," Goldman said.

According to the study, from September to May, CA's two indoor tennis facilities have an overall occupancy rate of 75 percent and an occupancy rate higher than 95 percent during prime-time hours. Goldman said those rates place CA's two indoor clubs in the top 5 percent nationally.

A 2012 survey commissioned by the study found 70 percent of the 478 tennis players surveyed said they would buy more block time if courts were available.

"If you build it, we will play. No doubt about it," said Leo Bruette, a CA tennis player who buys block time and plays in four USTA leagues.

According to Goldman, CA still is in the beginning stages of the building process and has not yet laid out specifics for the facility. He added that the facility could be completed by late fall 2014.

"Our goal this year is to get the engineering point worked out so we can submit a site development plan to the county," Goldman said. "In next year's budget we will ask for the funds to build it."

Harris and Bruette would like the facility, which will share some infrastructure with the SportsPark, to have stands or viewing decks.

Goldman said CA is planning extra space inside the building that will most likely be used for viewing.

In the short-term, the new indoor facility will help meet the demand of the Columbia tennis community. Long-term, the facility is viewed as a replacement for the bubble at Owen Brown, which Goldman estimated will be useful for another three to seven years.

During the years all three indoor facilities are running, CA will monitor how much they are used.

"If all three are really busy when the bubble's life is up, then we will take a hard look at replacing the bubble with a permanent facility," Goldman said

At a meeting last month, the CA board approved a $100,000 allocation to create building designs for the new facility.

"I believe there is urgency," said CA Town Center representative Suzanne Waller at the meeting. "I think we have a tennis program we should be proud of, and we should support it."

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