Midtown Raleigh News

Tennis center pitched for Southeast Raleigh

A balky right knee prevents Andy Andrews from playing the sport that once took him around the world.

But if Andrews can succeed in bringing a tennis center to vacant land in Southeast Raleigh, the N.C. State legend and former pro might not be able to resist hitting a few volleys on the new courts, at least the ceremonial kind.

For more than three years, Andrews has worked to build support for a top-flight complex that could help Raleigh qualify as a host for regional and national U.S. Tennis Association tournaments as well as school and collegiate championships.

A breakthrough came this year when City Manager Russell Allen included the proposal in a $9 million package of special bond projects. The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to move forward.

Andrews, who suffers from arthritis in his knee, no longer plays competitively except for occasional “hit and giggle” games, as he calls them. The 53-year-old found a different role in the sport: introducing tennis to new audiences.

“Doing things like this keeps me involved,” said Andrews, CEO of Dominion Realty Partners, a residential and commercial development company in Raleigh.

Finding a location

Andrews and city officials scouted 30 sites before settling on a spot in front of Barwell Road Elementary School. For now, the land is home to a giant dirt pile left over from construction of the school.

The city’s southeast has been growing steadily down Rock Quarry Road outside the I-440 Beltline.

But in recent years, promised amenities have not materialized, to the frustration of black community leaders in the area.

There was talk of a joint football stadium for Shaw University and St. Augustine’s – a plan that supporters hoped would draw thousands but ultimately proved unworkable.

The economic downturn wiped out plans for Olde Towne, a village-style community with 2,400 homes, an 18-hole golf course and outdoor shops.

The tennis center idea has languished, too, said Wake County Commissioner James West, who represents the area.

“It’s not something new,” West said. “This whole idea goes back a while. I think it’s truly overdue.”

Public-private partnership

The proposal calls for 18 courts, eight youth-oriented “quick-start” courts and a clubhouse. The city would use $4 million in bond money. Council members have expressed support, noting the project will tap into a public-private partnership.

With his contacts in business and tennis circles, Andrews has pledged to raise an additional $1 million in donations.

Andrews serves on both the USTA’s Southern Board of Directors and a national committee that searches for ways to enhance the game.

A few years ago, Andrews spearheaded N.C. State’s $1 million drive to build the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center, named in honor of Andrews’ coach at N.C. State.

Andrews spent five years on the pro tour, when he gained a top 10 world doubles ranking and partnered with State teammate John Sadri to reach the final of the 1982 Australian Open.

He played in every Grand Slam: the U.S., Australian and French opens and Wimbledon. Not known for quickness or superior athleticism, Andrews relied on a big serve to compete against stars such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker.

“I lost to everybody,” he says.

Attracting big events

The complex would become part of a trio of venues – along with Millbrook Exchange Park and Cary Tennis Park – marketed to tournaments that require multiple playing sites, city officials say.

Raleigh has not built new courts since 1996. Public leagues thrive at Biltmore Hills and Chavis Park, but a larger venue would create new possibilities, said Jessie Taliaferro, a former Raleigh City Council member helping Andrews with the project.

“You can only do so much with three or four courts in one spot,” she said.

The complex could serve as a home for the tennis teams at Shaw and St. Augustine’s universities.

The local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau plans to make recruiting pitches for NCAA events.

The Ebony Racquet Club will sponsor junior and adult lessons intended to draw new people to the game.

The clubhouse can double as a place for after-school programs and youth camps, part of what Andrews hopes will become a crossroads of education and sport.

“If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right,” he said. “Let’s put a facility out there that Raleigh can be proud of.”