Talking points abound in tennis-complex plan

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 03, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

THE PROPOSAL that a sizable tennis complex be built in the still-being-planned Troy Park in Elkridge guarantees some different, interesting discussion in coming months.

We're talking about the pitch the Howard County Tennis Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Tennis Association's Maryland Division, made to the county recreation and parks advisory board Sept. 22.

The concept is for about 16 of 106 acres of undeveloped parkland the county owns in the northeast corner of Interstate 95 and Route 100 to become a tennis mecca within the next five or so years. It would have eight indoor and 17 outdoor courts, locker and training rooms, a pro shop, a multipurpose stadium for maybe 5,000 that would include a tennis court, and offices for USTA-Maryland, now housed in Columbia.

Neat. But ...

This would be a regional facility, as well as a county thing, HCTA spokesmen say.

If a stadium were built, for example, it would be the only one of its kind in Central Maryland, apparently, with the closest comparable facility in Rock Creek Park, off 16th Street in Washington.

Thus, we could expect, backers say, pro competition on the stadium court and better tournaments than the county experiences now. And concerts.

Very nice. But ...

All of this would constitute something of a first for Howard County - a sports facility on county-owned land but serving a Central Maryland audience.

County government owns one regional facility, The Timbers at Troy golf course. Rec and parks built it, contracts with a private company to manage it, and - shhhh - profits.

But is that precedent for a tennis complex private enterprise - so, OK, a couple nonprofits but still private - wants to operate on public land?

Maybe. But ...

That's what lawyers get paid for, and besides, Prince George's County, to name one, and Montgomery County, to name another, long ago figured out ways to have privately operated sports facilities in parks and keep everyone happy.

Right. But ...

Depending on whom you listen to in HCTA's loosely organized, volunteer leadership, a guess-timated cost for all of this might be between $3 million and $5 million, not counting land. Tennis at the USTA level is wired with money, so maybe cost doesn't matter at this point. The pitch the advisory board heard included references to tennis foundations, businesses, deep-pocket donors, grants, taxes and bonds as possible revenue sources.

Taxes! But ...

Yep, this will be interesting.

But ... let's learn more. That's how progress occurs, and the U.S. Tennis Association wants - needs, truth be known - to get the sport growing again, especially among children.

All who play tennis locally, from the HCTA's programs on public school courts to the Columbia Park and Recreation Association's two indoor facilities and three outdoor centers, say far more indoor courts are needed in this county. The Columbia Association's own advisory Tennis Committee bludgeoned management last spring into adding a permanent indoor facility to its plans.

Let's listen, too, for more about other attractions Troy Park should include, how a tennis center might broaden the county's image and generate cash flow, and how play outdoors could be extended with lights.

Lights! Lights? But ...

Already, the chairman of rec and parks' own powerless advisory board has expressed concern over lighted tennis courts. His Elkridge neighbors might not like that, he told this paper.

But ... wait ...

Let's be more enlightened than that. After all, Troy Park has just four immediate neighbors: Interstate 95, Route 100, U.S. 1 and a relatively new industrial park.

Anyway, now's the time for tennis lovers to be e-mailing or calling rec and parks - in numbers - to support this thing.

Along the sidelines

FENCING: Congratulations to Virginia M. Thomas, a former state delegate and County Council member from Columbia who works for UMBC, on being inducted with her 1960 Fairleigh-Dickinson University women's fencing teammates into New Jersey college's athletics hall of fame. That team went 13-0 and won the school's first national title in the sport.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525, or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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