Tennis enthusiasts want the city to build more courts for their sport.
More than 50 people with the Raleigh Tennis Association rented a charter bus and arrived together at City Hall for a City Council meeting earlier this month. They wore yellow T-shirts and carried signs in support of their “Raise a Racket” campaign that aims to increase awareness of the need for more tennis courts in Raleigh.
Members of the group say the city hasn’t kept up with a growing demand for tennis courts and should better maintain existing courts. They also say expanded tennis facilities would attract tournaments that could boost the local economy.
Billy Trott, a member of the Raleigh Tennis Association and president of the North Carolina chapter of the United States Tennis Association, said he supports the city’s plan to build eight more courts at the Biltmore Hills Community Center in Southeast Raleigh. That would bring the total number of courts to 16, making Biltmore Hills the city’s second-largest tennis complex behind Millbrook Exchange Park in North Raleigh.
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Trott also said many of the city’s existing courts need repairs.
“Almost two-thirds of all tennis players play on publicly funded courts,” Trott told the council. “Most city courts are 30 to 40 years old and are in bad need of renovation.”
The Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department operates 110 public tennis courts at 25 locations throughout the city. The last time the city built new courts was 1997.
The recession was to blame for the lack of new courts and repairs, said David Bell, tennis center director for Millbrook Exchange.
The City Council approved plans for a new tennis center at Barwell Road Park in Southeast Raleigh in 2012, but the project was canceled after it went over budget. The facility would have housed more than 20 courts.
Instead, the city will use money set aside for the project for the Biltmore Hills expansion and to renovate other courts throughout the city.
A new tennis court, including fencing, lights, and nets costs at least $50,000, Bell said. It has become more expensive to resurface existing courts because they have been neglected for several years.
The Raleigh Tennis Association, a nonprofit that formed in 2004, launched “Raise a Racket” in January with an online petition that has about 1,000 signatures. RTA president Beth Beam said the push for more public courts is part of an ongoing effort to grow the popularity of tennis.
Beam said the group has donated $50,000 toward city recreation programs and court maintenance. It also provides free programs for local players with special needs and free equipment for more than 20 elementary schools, as well as free workshops and training sessions for physical education teachers.
Members of the association say Raleigh’s rapid growth has led to an influx of new tennis players. The online petition says the “number of players and leagues in Raleigh are growing faster than any of the (United States Tennis Association’s) other Southern region cities second only to Atlanta.”
Nearly 15,000 adults scheduled league play matches with the city’s parks and recreation department last spring.
League matches require five courts, and Raleigh has only five facilities with that many courts. So some matches must be scheduled at smaller complexes.
“People don’t want to have a five-court match at a three-court facility,” Bell said.
He said a large complex like the Cary Tennis Park would attract tournaments to Raleigh, since matches wouldn’t have to be scattered at facilities across the city.