WTA event moved from Troy Park to College Park

The Troy Park Tennis and Sports Center, a multi-use athletic park in Elkridge, was supposed to be developed enough to host a $220,000 WTA International-level event next month, but because funding did not come through as expected in December, the tournament is being moved.

The Tennis Center at College Park will be the site for this year's Citi Open, formerly known as the Mid-Atlantic Women's Tennis Championship, from July 23 to 31.

Meanwhile, Troy Park's developers wait for an independent economic impact study, approved by the Maryland Stadium Authority last week, before pursuing other sources of financing.

"We thought we had the financing lined up last December, but the bond markets, the economy is a mess and no one was lending," said Art Tollick, president of the Howard County Tennis Patrons. "It was discouraging, but we view it as a temporary setback."

Because the park hasn't progressed as planned, the WTA event's owner, Donald Dell, a former professional and Davis Cup tennis player who is now a Washington lawyer and sports agent, and his tournament director, Sam Duvall, scrambled to find an alternate site for this year.

They considered Washington, where Dell has the ATP Legg Mason Classic men's tournament he founded. But Duvall said the goal all along has been to have the women's tournament be a Maryland event.

"The goal was to have this event at Troy Park," Duvall said. "Unfortunately, the financing wasn't in place. Things are progressing now, and we're 100 percent certain the tournament will be at Troy Park in the future. But, for now, we're having it in College Park. It's the next best place. We want it to be Maryland's tournament, and it is still in Maryland."

The tournament will include 20 of the world's top 100 competitors, including No. 22 Shahar Peer and Melanie Oudin, who have been Grand Slam quarterfinalists. Jelena Dokic, a six-time WTA singles winner and the 2000 Wimbledon semifinalist who was once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world, is also on board, as is improving teenager Sloane Stephens.

The tournament is one of just three international events still being played in the United States. At least 10 countries will be represented.

Grading was supposed to start at the Troy Park site last fall, shortly after permits were approved. But that came to a halt when the financing fell through. Now, Tollick, who has dreamed of this tennis park for more than seven years, said developers are searching for new equity partners, seeking more help from the county and the state and looking for ways to perhaps scale back the $44 million plan, which was to include 30 tennis courts (including 12 indoors) and a main stadium that would seat 8,000.

With that in mind, Tollick said Howard County executive Ken Ulman suggested a third-party validation of the numbers that came out of a previous economic impact study financed by the HCTP, which indicated the park would generate $69 million in spending in its first three years.

The Tennis Patrons will pay an additional $40,000 toward the Maryland Stadium Authority's study, which is expected to cost $75,000. The Authority will pay the remaining $35,000.

"We're looking for other things we can do to increase the park's use," Tollick said, noting the county is in discussions for a potential D.C. United training complex that would include space for the Major League Soccer team to practice and for its affiliated Under 18 and Under 16 teams to train. "We hope to have the study done in 60 to 90 days. We hope to have the financing in place by the fall. And we hope to have the tennis event here at our park next July."

Gary McGuigan, project executive for the Stadium Authority, said Tollick's time frame could be a little too optimistic. The Stadium Authority Board approved the request from Ulman's office June 14, but before work begins on the economic impact study, it must clear another hurdle or two.

The Authority sent a registered letter June 16 to the Maryland Legislative budget committee, which must respond to the request for the impact study before it can begin. Jan Hardesty, a spokesperson for the Authority said the legislature "to this point has never said no to a request." But by law, it has up to 30 days to comment on the request.

"Once we get the approval to go ahead, our consulting firm, Cross Roads, begins scheduling interviews with all the stakes holders and we go through the process from there," McGuigan said. "How quickly those interviews can be scheduled will determine how long it will take to finish the report. And we also don't know what else we will be running into. Sometimes you get things you don't anticipate. But if all goes smoothly, we should have the report in the early part of winter — which isn't too far off [Tollick's] timeline."

McGuigan said that at this point, the study will consider only the tennis facility, "but we understand the county may ask in the future for the D.C. United aspect to be included."

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