SCHENECTADY – Anita Russo said she’d love for big-name tennis pros to return to the city for competition in the city’s tennis stadium in Central Park.
But the president of the 170-member Schenectady Tennis Association said she’s also a realist.
It would cost hundreds of thousands to rehab the dormant, rundown facility, and public money would be better spent maintaining the 17 well-kept courts elsewhere in the park, Russo said.
“The seating, the overgrowth of all the shrubs, and the condition of the courts – it’d have to be ripped out and redone,” Russo said of the stadium. “And to do it for one court, I just don’t see it as realistic when we have 17 just across the way from there that always need maintenance, and we have a lot of people that use them.”
Jim Neal, the local tennis advocate who voluntarily maintains Central Park tennis courts, adds that all of the stadium’s bleachers are rotting and need replacement.
Neal estimated it would cost $300,000 to return the stadium to a high-quality standard.
Neal, who also coaches Niskayuna High School boys and girls tennis, said he thinks the city should demolish the stadium.
Interest in the stadium was renewed in recent weeks after the city hosted a junior national tennis tournament for 64 girls 18-and-under in singles play on the 17 courts. Many of those same players competed in doubles.
Neal helped facilitate the U.S. Tennis Association tournament coming to Schenectady, after the pandemic forced organizers to change venues from West Point.
As the junior nationals were occurring, Neal said locals began to ask him why the city wouldn’t invest in repairing the decrepit stadium.
Meanwhile, plans for addressing the stadium remain on the back burner as the city addresses more pressing needs concerning recreational opportunities, Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
He said that there are “a series of options” for the reuse of the tennis stadium space. But he wouldn’t discuss what they were last week.
McCarthy said city officials want to spend money on “more practical investments that allow people to play tennis, golf, baseball – the basketball courts are in OK shape, and we’re doing things for cricket leagues.”
McCarthy added: “I’m not inclined to do anything with the tennis stadium until we’ve got some of these other things finished.”
The stadium drew big crowds when the OTB Open held professional outdoor hard court tournaments from 1985 to 1994, sponsored by the Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation.
Also, the former New York Buzz professional tennis team held matches in the stadium, prior to its move to Albany in 2008.
In the wake of their departures, the city hasn’t had the capacity to run pro tournaments, McCarthy said.
“The old days are gone,” Neal said. “You can’t bring those type of players here, because now they want more in appearance fees, just to show up.”
Also, it’s unlikely that locals would pay admission to the stadium in the same way spectators pay for tickets to the U.S. Open, which is in a public facility in Flushing Meadows, Neal suggested.
In the meantime, the city hasn’t lacked for tennis facilities with the 17 courts, the mayor said.
“If you want to play tennis, you can play tennis here,” McCarthy said. “It’s not like we have greater demand than we have capacity. For the amount of money we’d have to spend (on the stadium), the return is very marginal.”
Asked if the city had received formal bids to do something with the stadium, McCarthy said: “There are different groups that have looked at it. It’s Central Park. People want to do things. People are drawn there.
“But formal proposals that can be implemented have not come forward,” he said, adding in jest that if the Daily Gazette donated $1 million for sponsorship and stadium naming rights, “I could do the press conference tomorrow.”
Russo said the association is happy with the 17 courts, but there are opportunities to make improvements.
Rain flows toward some of the courts, instead of away from them, creating large puddles on rainy days, she said.
The association also wants water fountains installed, and the facility needs a new shed for supplies, Russo said.
“It’d be great to have a center court,” said Russo, as she mentioned various pros who once played at the venue, including the retired Pete Sampras, the Williams sisters, and Bryan brothers.
“But we really need those 17 courts maintained. If the city could do everything, do everything,” Russo said. “I want it all.”