The Rome Tennis Center at Berry College opened in the summer of 2016 and has brought thousands of tennis players from all around the world to Rome over its nearly three years in existence.
To be certain, the city’s tennis operations are still in the red, but the deficit was more than cut in half from 2017 to 2018. City Manager Sammy Rich said the center, in and of itself, was never intended to be an employment center or a major source of revenue, but that the success of the center can be seen across the spectrum of the hospitality industry.
There have been plenty of tournaments hosted at the newly built center, most recently the last full weekend in February when the United States Tennis Association Southern Level 2 Icy Hot 16/18 Championships were contested. Teenagers from all over the Southeastern U.S. were in town and had to wait out one last day of rain before jamming a full tournament schedule into Sunday and Monday play.
The Girls 18-and-under championship was won by Gavriella Smith of New Orleans over Angel Carney of Dallas, Georgia. The Girls 16-and-under was won by Vennmukiil Mathivanan of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, over Elle Bredermann of Daniel Island, South Carolina.
The Boys 18-and-under title went to Garrett Johns of Atlanta, who beat Baylor Sai of Nashville, while the Boys 16-and-under was won by Mitchell Deames of Daniel Island, who beat Ryan Mangiapane of Davison, North Carolina.
Rome Tennis Center Executive Director Tom Daglis has scored big when it comes to landing major tournaments, from the junior level to intercollegiate play, even professionals, in the form of the International Tennis Federation Georgia Open Wheelchair event that had more than 70 top handicapped professionals from more than 20 countries competing for cash prizes recently.
Staff at the tennis center changed a little in 2018. Becky Opoien was hired away from her post as Recreational Programmer for the Mesa, Arizona, Tennis Center. She had previously served as Director of Tennis at the Seville Golf and Country Club in Gilbert, Arizona.
In Rome she will fill the position of Head Tennis Professional. Bobby Walker, a long-familiar face to local netters as manager of the Rome-Floyd Tennis Center on West Third Street, came back to Rome to serve as director of community tennis. He had been serving at the Lake Charles Racquet Club in Louisiana. Julie Fusik continues to serve as a staff professional and director for 10-and-under tennis development.
Ground will be broken later this year for a new six-court indoor facility that was always envisioned for the complex, but left out of the original SPLOST funding package to make the bottom line more palatable to voters. The indoor facility will be a bond-funded building which officials knew they were going to have to construct in order to even bid on events like the Atlantic Coast Conference championships which will be back in Rome in 2020 and 2021.
The importance of indoor facilities was highlighted during the 2018 NCAA championships in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when it rained virtually every day during the tournament. In order to get the play in, the tournament was forced to go indoors.
Architect Tony Menefee, who is designing the indoor facility, said 100-percent complete construction drawings for the project would be ready around April 1. Fundamentally, the building is a customized pre-fabricated metal building.
“We’re customizing it to optimize its potential,” Menefee said. The construction manager for the project will be BM&K Construction and Engineering.
“It’s great to get pricing feedback in practically real time,” Menefee said.
Officials with BM&K have been working hand in hand with Menefee for a couple of months to try to nail down actual pricing of some of the important elements of the facility.
The value of the tennis center cannot be looked at solely by looking over the balance books in Rome Finance Director Sheree Shore’s office. Tennis is an enterprise fund designed to stand on its own. Those books will show that in 2017, the first full year of operation, the tennis center showed an operations deficit of $218,000, but $90,000 of that came at the downtown center on West Third Street.
In 2018, the red ink was a little more than $100,000 with $55,000 of that at the downtown center.
“It was actually budgeted to lose $94,000 so that was very close,” Shore said. “You’re not intending to make a lot of money. The intent is not to lose money, but we’re going to have to figure out how to make it get to break even.”
Hosting more locally operated tournaments is one of the big objectives for the center moving forward. Sponsoring your own tournaments means that you get all of the revenue and are not splitting it with outside promoters.
“This year will be better because more and more of the tournaments coming in are ours,” Shore said. “We really should see a pretty big uptick in revenue.”
Opoien said the locally-sponsored tournaments provide a good barometer of the local tennis community. “I think it’s important that players feel this is home and we build a community of great tennis players and that’s one of our top goals,” she said.
She is doing her part to promote the sport to future generations by hosting free Sunday junior match play events on Sundays from 2-4 p.m. at the downtown center. It’s open to middle and high school students to get kids out with no strings attached.
What Shore’s figure doesn’t show is the multi-million dollar impact the tournaments hosted at the center have had on local hotels and restaurants. The figures produced by the Rome Office of Tourism are not stoked by multipliers, but strictly reflect traceable figures.
Data put together by Kristi Kent, the marketing and communications director at the Office of Tourism, shows that four tennis tournaments were among the top 15 revenue-producing events touched by the tourism office in 2018.
The USTA Georgia Adult Tennis Championships in May generated $435,600, The USTA Georgia Junior Open brought in more than $402,900, the USTA Girls 14-and-under National Championships in August brought in more than $359,800 while the USTA Georgia Bowl Level 3 tourney in March brought in $351,409.
The tourism board got figures for the month of January 2019 during the last week of February showing that the tennis center was responsible for $232,439 in economic impact, even without indoor courts.
The future of the downtown tennis center remains uncertain with new emphasis on the redevelopment of the West Third Street-North Fifth Avenue corridors, the so-called River District.
“That real estate is only going to become more and more valuable,” Rich said. “I do think it’s not unrealistic to think there may be some change in use but I think we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”