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City reviews offer for Tennis Center purchase

September 11, 2007 10:49 AM

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Article compliments of the Daytona Beach/Holly Hill Hometown News

By Bethany Chambers
Fri, August 31, 2007

DAYTONA BEACH - Dan Cotter, 68, and Bruce Cotten, 76, were strangers before they became members of the Florida Tennis Center. But when they each moved to the area just a few years ago, they became friends. Tennis was the tie that bound them.

Three days a week, the two cross the street from their neighborhood to play on one of the facility's 24 courts with a group of friends, most of them also retirees.

That all could change starting Oct. 1 if Daytona Beach passes the proposed budget. Of the $18.3 million the city has suggested cutting, $580,000 comes from eliminating operations at the 5-year-old Florida Tennis Center. Five of the center's employees would also lose their jobs.

The U.S. Tennis Association submitted a proposal Aug. 23 to buy the facility for $1 million, city officials confirmed Monday. City manager James Chisholm had yet to review the proposal or make a recommendation to city commissioners as of press time.

The decision to make the cuts, though, has disappointed Florida's chapter of the U.S. Tennis Association, whose offices are in the Florida Tennis Center. The association has four years left on its lease, but has developed a contingency plan should it be unable to negotiate a deal with the city.

"This, to us, is irreplaceable, having our offices and facilities in the same place. We were convinced to come here - the city leaders at the time asked us (to come) here," USTA Florida executive director Doug Booth said. "We have done everything in our lease and everything in our ability, and now the leadership that is in place has gone and done this to us."

City spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said the Tennis Center was losing money, but that has since subsided. The proposed budget report shows the center breaking even at about $230,000 in the past operating year.

Mr. Booth disputes the city's proposition to close the center because of financial reasons, citing the economic impact of USTA events that are held at the tennis center.

A report produced by Mid-Florida Marketing and Research shows that the total economic impact of a single USTA event held at the center totals $506,500. The center hosts roughly a dozen of these events each year, Mr. Booth said.

Bob Davis, president of the Daytona Beach Hotel Motel Association, says he is "battling for" the center because the city needs to bring in "clean sports and young people." His 7-year-old granddaughter plays tennis, and he has seen tennis events "bring huge family business," he said.

The decision to cut the Tennis Center from the city budget was not an easy one, Ms. Cerbone said, but was necessary in order to meet residents' demands for a tax rollback.

"Each department looked at their staff and just made a decision on priority by the volume of work and if their duties could be absorbed," she said.

The city will continue to maintain tennis facilities at Derbyshire Recreation Complex and City Island Park.

But, Mr. Booth said, those would not meet the demands of residents on the western side of the city.

"That will work in the short term, but there are 1,200 planned homes here, Hurst Elementary and Father Lopez's new campus all within five minutes," he said. "West is where you want to be. The city sure feels that way, or they wouldn't be building their new police and fire stations here."

The city hopes to find another partnership to keep the center open should the USTA deal fall through, Commissioner Dwayne Taylor said. Mr. Taylor suggested Nike, Reebok or a tennis-specific group as possibilities.

Even if the city cannot make a partnership or sale, the city commissioners could not possibly agree on a budget that would shut down the center, longtime member Mr. Cotten said.

"They're not going to close it; they can't," he said. "It would be political suicide.

"Cities are spending millions to open courts," Mr. Cotten said. "We have one of the best facilities in the nation and want to close it. It just makes no sense."

 

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