Wake County

A 50-court tennis center is planned for Raleigh

Harrison Tseng of Raleigh Charter High School hits the ball during a tennis match on May 20, 2017.
Harrison Tseng of Raleigh Charter High School hits the ball during a tennis match on May 20, 2017. newsobserver.com

A local entrepreneur wants to build a 50-court tennis center in northwest Raleigh to accommodate the sport’s growing popularity and to host tournaments.

Rob Autry is asking Raleigh if he can lease 48 acres of city-owned land near the Brier Creek community so he can build a facility with six indoor courts and dozens more open and covered courts for tennis, squash and pickleball.

City Council members on Tuesday said they liked the idea for a tennis center, which Autry said would be the largest facility of its kind in North Carolina.

“(Tuesday) was a significant milestone for us,” Autry said. “That was the point in time for them to say, ‘Hey, we have issues and it might not be worth it to press forward.’ But thank goodness they said, ‘We’re in favor of this, and you’ve got our endorsement to go ahead and draw up a contract.’ 

Raleigh owns 110 courts, which aren’t enough to satisfy local demand, said Ken Hisler, assistant parks director. Raleigh has more U.S. Tennis Association members than any city in the Southeast except Atlanta, he said.

The city is in the process of adding eight courts to the eight existing ones at the Biltmore Hills Community Center in Southeast Raleigh, but some say that’s just a start.

A $25 million tennis center built by Autry’s investment group, Triangle Racquet Sports, would help fill a need without costing taxpayer money, City Manager Ruffin Hall said Tuesday.

“What the city’s really doing is leveraging our land asset in exchange for a tennis facility in a location with a high demand for tennis,” he said. “There’s really not any city money in this deal, and there is a strong demand for tennis across the city.”

Autry, the founder of Café Carolina restaurants and Raleigh sports tech company Vstrator, is a former tennis coach and an active player. He said he had been considering a project like this for about 10 years, but the economic downturn halted early plans. Now, he said, the time is right, and he hopes to open the facility by late 2019 or early 2020.

Since 2003, Raleigh has owned the site at 6205 Mount Herman Road, on the east side of U.S. 70 just north of Interstate 540.

A proposed layout for the 48-acre site Rob Autry and his investors want to lease from the city of Raleigh to build a 50-court tennis center. Triangle Racquet Sports, LLC

The City Council is expected to vote on a lease agreement in about six months. Under a proposal, the city could lease the land for $1 per year for an initial term of 50 years, with the possibility to extend the lease to 100 years.

Tennis enthusiasts would be able to buy memberships to the center or pay one-time fees to use the courts and a fitness center.

Raleigh would get a $275,000 cut of the center’s revenue each year, Hisler said. He expects the center would have an estimated $3.5 million impact on the economy as players, families and fans would travel from other areas and stay at hotels and eat at local restaurants.

Autry said he hoped the venue would be a host site for junior and adult USTA tournaments, as well as events on the American Tennis Professionals circuit.

One of the tennis courts would serve as “center court,” with a maximum seating capacity of 2,500 people for major matches.

“It won’t be the Australian Open, but we could certainly have championship events,” Hisler said.

Raleigh leaders have said they also want the site to feature a small park with a playground, walking trail, restrooms and picnic shelters.

The 32-court Cary Tennis Park, which is the largest public tennis center in the state, is about 13 miles from the proposed site in northwest Raleigh. That facility hosts tournaments, including the ACC college championships this year.

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Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan