Ifs, ands or buts drive buzz on tennis facility


Howard At Play

October 31, 2004|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

LIFE JUST wouldn't be as interesting without ifs, ands or buts.

Take that recent proposal by the Howard County Tennis Association for building a regional facility - with indoor and outdoor courts, including a stadium court - on county-owned acreage that someday will become Troy Park in Elkridge.

Since we reported about it last month, ifs, ands or buts have escalated, each contributing to a lot of buzz among people who like to play tennis in Howard County.

Some samples of what is being talked about:

If ... the county's Department of Recreation and Parks is to add the proposal to its construction plans for, say, four or five years from now, HCTA needs to come back relatively quickly with some facts and figures, not just a dream.

The department's advisory board told HCTA about 10 days ago such a study will be needed for further consideration.

Rec and parks Director Gary J. Arthur said, "If they're going to hunt for financing, they'll have to do a feasibility study, anyway."

And ... that means, who would conduct such a study? HCTA spokesmen have bandied about the name of the Maryland chapter of the U.S. Tennis Association. But USTA-Maryland doesn't build or own facilities, even though it can tap lots of expertise nationally.

USTA-Maryland (which is housed in Columbia and would have new offices in a Troy facility) is involved, though.

In fact, Lynn Coddington, executive director of the Maryland group, said a small group of citizens - HCTA's leaders, some from the business world and some from Maryland tennis - are to meet this week with the goal of forming a legal entity to pursue a facility at Troy Park. That entity would proceed with feasibility work.

But ... who's interested, anyway?

Arthur said he has received more than 180 e-mails since HCTA made its Troy proposal public, in the process encouraging backers to e-mail him. Almost all writers support the concept, he said, and most are from parts of Howard County outside Columbia.

But ... why aren't there backers from Columbia?

Because Columbia residents and workers have access to nine of the 13 indoor courts in Howard County, in two facilities owned and operated by the Columbia Park and Recreation Association. (The other four indoor courts are privately operated in Glenwood.)

Access to Columbia Association tennis facilities is pricier for non-Columbians, but a decent number pay the added fees for convenience.

If ... Columbia residents aren't speaking out, what about the Columbia Association itself? The association is under competitive pressure these days in fitness facilities and programs, so where does it stand on a new tennis complex that would appear to be more competition?

"CA's position is that as long as it's good for tennis in Howard County and doesn't compete with what we're doing, we're all for it," said association Vice President Rob Goldman. "We've met with [HCTA and Coddington] a couple times in the past three or four months."

Then Goldman said something that will surprise a lot of folks.

"We suggested that we might be interested in managing [a new facility]," he said, noting quickly that such a step would first require research and then approval by Columbia Association directors. "After all, we have seven or eight tennis pros, a general manager, and we've been running facilities, indoors and outdoors, for more than 30 years."

The association also has apparent leeway under its charter to enter a management-for-fee arrangement, but there is no precedent in the homeowners association's history for managing someone else's sports property.

But ... if ... a new indoor facility were to open in Elkridge, wouldn't that hamper CA's two indoor facilities?

Who knows? Everyone agrees indoor court time is what's driving this whole thing.

As Gary Kramer, who chairs the association's tennis advisory committee, points out, fees from indoor use are large enough to support outdoor courts, as well.

Columbia Association management is about to conduct its own feasibility study for a new, permanent indoor tennis facility, having been pressured into doing so in the spring by Kramer's committee. The facility would replace the widely disliked but - in peak hours - solidly booked tennis "bubble" in Owen Brown village.

"The big question," said Goldman, "is whether there's enough additional demand for indoor tennis to warrant a new facility, or would a new facility only transfer players from existing facilities?"

Good question, the answer to which ... if ... paired with HCTA's non-Columbia feasibility study, might clarify why Troy Park ought to be home for a new regional tennis complex.

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

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