The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College has been in operation for a full year now and Rome Finance Director Sheree Shore said for accounting purposes, the center has essentially operated on a break-even basis. Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said the goal for the facility was always to break even.
“Full disclose, two things. It’s not a huge job creator, and in itself it’s not a huge profit center,” Rich said. “It is an economic engine for the community.”
The 60-court tennis center was sold to local taxpayers as part of the 2013 SPLOST package as an economic-development and quality-of-life project. “You do not have any debt on the tennis center,” Shore said. That’s the primary difference between the tennis center and the Stonebridge Golf Club owned by the city of Rome. The city has bonded indebtedness on the golf course which will be paid off in 2024.
Shore said a more thorough analysis of the financial condition of the tennis center would become available at the end of the year since the city operates on a calendar-year financial cycle.
The city did budget a $115,210 loss for the tennis center in 2017. Shore said revenues were budgeted very conservatively and through the month of July, revenue was running almost $38,000 ahead of budget.
On the balance sheets, expenses are also running ahead of budget, by approximately $165,000. Nearly $139,000 of that is categorized as depreciation and does not actually represent operating expenses. The supplies budget for the tennis center is already $24,000 over the projected budget for the entire year.
Executive Director Tom Daglis said the over-run in the supplies budget was largely a function of making an estimate for the full first year of operations. There were a lot of expenditures that he simply was not aware of the extent to which things were needed.
“The amount of toilet paper we’ve gone through has been incredible,” Daglis said.
Another example is that the facility needed 60 dryers to help blow dry the courts after rain.
The center generates revenue in a number of ways. Daglis said one way involves collection of site fees from tournament-sponsoring, or sanctioning, agents. “The money from the players (entry fees) is going to that vendor. They pay for all the officials, the ball, the awards and all that stuff,” Daglis said. “They pay us for use of the courts for that event.”
Daglis said the center itself actually bids on events. “If we sanction those tournaments all that money comes to us,” Daglis said. “It’s certainly much more profitable for us, but it’s very competitive.”
Daglis also pointed out the new Rome facility is typically competing against other facilities that have been operating much longer and have a good track record with the USTA, which makes it even more difficult to convince selection committees to switch locations. “We are getting a tremendous amount of tournaments in Rome,” Daglis said. “The people that are playing our tournaments absolutely love it. They love the facility; they like going downtown.”
The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College, when unsuccessful in winning bids for existing tournaments, has started to develop its own event. “We are going to try to do a national physicians tournament with all the doctors around the country who play tennis.
“They’re competitive, so we’re going to try to do a national championship if you’ve got a medical degree,” Daglis said. He is also trying to attract some pro circuit tournaments, events with smaller purses, in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.
In addition to the direct revenue from hosting tournaments, Daglis said the center does produce revenue from its pro shop. He said the center has two racket-stringing machines, and during the USTA Girls 14-U National Championships in August, each of the machines was used to string close to 100 rackets. He charges an $18 fee for the service, so that alone brought in close to $3,600.
Daglis said an Icee machine (shaved ice) is also a big moneymaker during youth tournaments.
Shore said the financial impact of the tennis center should not be looked at on the city’s books alone, because its impact
is felt in local restaurants and retail shops.
Rome Sports Commission Director Ann Hortman said the tennis center has had a direct economic impact of $4.8 million from the time it opened through the end of July.
Kara Murphy, a service manager at Olive Garden, said the restaurant definitely feels a bump in business during tournaments. “That’s something we take into account with staffing as we look at the scheduling for the tennis center. We definitely get a flow of business coming in,” Murphy said. “The bigger the tournament, the more we tend to get full teams coming in. But typically it’s just smaller, four or six people at a time.”
“Hotel/motel tax collections have exceeded our expectations over the past year,” Shore said. She pointed out those collections for the month of April when the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s and women’s championships were played at the center were up about $8,000 from the month of April a year ago.
Two percent of the hotel/motel tax receipts are budgeted in direct support of the tennis center. Shore said collections for calendar year 2016 were up $18,332 which she said could, in part, be attributed to the number of tournaments that were booked during the final five months of the year.
Through June of this year (July numbers are not back yet from the state) collections are running about $5,050 ahead of budget. Shore said the numbers could be even higher. “We lost a lot during the ACC tournament because we didn’t have enough rooms,” Shore said. Hortman said some of the teams actually stayed in Calhoun because there were not enough rooms in Rome. Shore said completion of the Courtyard by Marriott would help in the future. There has also been considerable discussion of yet another hotel being developed closer to the tennis center itself.
August hotel/motel tax collections should also see a significant spike as a result of the United States Tennis Association Girls 14-U National Championships, which were played at the center last month. Almost 200 teenage girls and their families were in Rome for the better part of a week as each of the girls was guaranteed at least three matches during the tournament.
A series of covered courts so that some play could continue during periods of rain was cut from the 2013 SPLOST budget and did not get included in the 2017 SPLOST package.
Rich said the steering committee that helped develop the facility will be asked to take a hard look at how to fund covered or indoor courts. The ability to move indoors in the event of rain is critical to bids for most major collegiate tournaments, and Rome made arrangements with facilities in both Atlanta and Chattanooga in the event of rain during the ACC tournament in April.
“Do we go seek private funds, do we try to borrow the money. Like it or not we’re in the tennis business,” Rich said. “It would be a travesty to come this far and just throw our hands up, and even though we need it to complete the center, we’re not going to do it. That would be short-sighted for us.”
Rich would not rule out the possibility of selling bonds to finance the covered courts, saying the additional events those courts would help bring to Rome could potentially increase the bottom line for the tennis center enough to make payments on the bonds.