The Green Spring Racquet Club has been a gathering spot for generations of Baltimore-area tennis enthusiasts, a place where kids learn the game and seasoned players face off.
After more than 40 years, the club at Green Spring Station off Falls Road is set to close April 30 to make way for an outpatient surgical center to be built by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Leaders of a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the club want to open a new indoor tennis complex in Owings Mills — but they don't have funding.
School teams from around the Baltimore area play at the Brooklandville club, which also hosts clinics for people with disabilities as well as community events and summer camps.
There are about 30 other indoor courts in Baltimore, including at Orchard Tennis Club and Fitness Center, the Baltimore Fitness and Tennis Center, and Coppermine Racquet and Fitness, said Brad Lindgren, the adult tennis league scheduler for Baltimore Tennis Patrons.
The Baltimore Tennis Patrons' community tennis association can help players who are looking for a new home for leagues, tournaments, lessons and events, said president Lynn Morrell.
But "no one in this entire area will be able to house what Green Spring has been doing," said Morgan State University head tennis coach Matt Townes, whose team practices and competes at Green Spring. He called the closing "devastating."
With 14 tennis courts, six squash courts and two racquetball courts, the club is the largest indoor tennis facility in the Mid-Atlantic, according to general manager Janet Paulsen. It now has about 1,000 members after seeing a drop beginning about a year ago as people learned it was slated to close.
Tennis great Pam Shriver, who grew up nearby, is among those who have played at the club since it opened in 1975.
"This has been an institution in our community," Paulsen said. "That's the sad part."
While the club is a for-profit business, Paulsen founded the Green Spring Tennis and Educational Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on outreach to people with disabilities and underserved youths.
She wants the foundation to run a new center, which would focus on community outreach and also offer memberships and court rentals. She envisions something similar to a YMCA.
Paulsen said she has found a suitable site for a new club with tennis and squash courts, classrooms and fitness studios — a 7-acre property backing up to the McDonogh School. But building the complex will cost $12 million, and she is looking for donors.
The possibility of razing the tennis complex has existed for years. The developer of Green Spring Station, Foxleigh Enterprises, has long considered an alternative use for the site, and Johns Hopkins has a variety of medical offices in the development now.
Hopkins plans to settle on the property in May, spokeswoman Jania Matthews said in an email, adding that "the much-needed space expansion will offer more integrated and better coordinated services to patients."
Construction of the medical building is scheduled to start this summer, with an opening scheduled for January 2019.
Foxleigh principal Tom Peddy said his firm worked with Paulsen to secure the Owings Mills site.
"Her community outreach and tenaciousness during this process have been exemplary, and we are hopeful that she generates the support that she needs to make this project a reality," Peddy said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
The club's foundation has focused on working with organizations serving people with special needs, offering free adaptive tennis programs.
"It's going to be a big loss," said Len Duffy, area director for Special Olympics of Baltimore County, which partnered with the club. "I don't know what we're going to do with these athletes. It's a positive program for them. They're going to miss it."
Duffy said the tennis program for Special Olympics athletes is unusual in that it's year-round. Other sporting programs are seasonal.
The club also worked with the Autism Society of Baltimore Chesapeake to provide free tennis clinics for children and adults.
Christine Heaphy, whose 16-year-old son Reid has autism, said the club provides a niche that will be hard to replicate.
"I think the special needs-community certainly is kind of the star in there," said Heaphy, a Lutherville resident and secretary of the Green Spring Tennis and Education Foundation. "As a parent, it's great to see your kids do what everyone else can do."
For people with special needs, "there are a lot of places in life where you're not accepted," Heaphy said. "Kids just want a place to go to be themselves."
A farewell party is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 22 to thank patrons.
Mays Chapel resident Tazeen Siraj said her 5-year-old daughter Zara liked a tennis camp at the club so much she didn't want to come home. Now she takes lessons at the club.
"These people know the kids by name," Siraj said of the club's staff. "We're all very sad."
Townes of Morgan State has been looking for other courts for his players, but hasn't found space yet.
"Our money is very limited, so I don't even want to think about what would actually happen if we don't find a home," Townes said. "That's not an option right now. We have to find a place."