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Hillsborough Community College Tennis Complex in Tampa Stays Open to Public

February 22, 2008 11:16 AM

By GARY SHEPHERD

The 28-court Hillsborough Community College tennis complex will remain open to the public under new management, school officials say. The HCC tennis facility had been slated to close on March 3, 2008 when a 20-year operating lease with the City of Tampa expires.

Instead of closing, however, the 16 hard courts and 12 soft courts at HCC will be operated by Keystone Ventures LLC under a 60- to 90-day deal now being finalized. During those two or three months, HCC will work toward signing a longer-term deal, officials said.

"This is great news for area tennis players," said Hillsborough County Tennis Association President Sharon Belmudez. "HCC is the largest public tennis facility in the Tampa Bay region, so we are very grateful to the school for finding a solution."

Some 15,000 recreational matches are played annually at HCC. Several USTA teams and Tampa high schools are based there. HCC traditionally hosts several USTA-sanctioned, high school, and college tournaments each year. HCC is also home to Steve Smith's Tennissmith School, and HCC's Lady Hawks tennis team has become a national powerhouse under HCC Coach Chad Berryhill.

HCC's District Board of Trustees OK'ed the management change concept after college President Dr. Gwendolyn Stephenson raised the tennis issue at the February 19 HCC board meeting. Gregory Neal, managing partner of Keystone Ventures, will work with other HCC officials to complete the deal and present it to HCC Trustees in March.

Meanwhile, barring any last-minute hitches, tennis will proceed at the HCC campus.

"We saw a civic need, a community need to keep the courts open," said Neal. "HCC has been tremendous in terms of taking responsibility" for keeping the facility open to the public,” he added.

Keystone Ventures is a Tampa-based firm that hopes to redevelop the entire Dale Mabry Highway HCC campus. The campus is located west of Raymond James Stadium, home field of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL team. Rates for court usage will be changed "to reflect the market in Tampa," said Neal.

The Har-Tru soft "clay" court rates will be increased from the current $5 per person per hour for singles, likely to $10; rates will be discounted for senior citizens and juniors. HCC will work to honor any existing annual memberships purchased from the City of Tampa. New tennis complex hours will be:
8 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays; and noon-6 p.m. on Sundays.

Keystone plans $75,000 to $100,000 worth of improvements in coming months, said HCC attorney Martha Kaye Koehler. She said HCC would provide utilities and grounds maintenance for the 13-acre tennis complex and that the complex will likely aim to host USTA and other tournaments. Several 2008 tournaments were not scheduled due to the ending of the Tampa/HCC lease. The final tournament slated for 2008 was Feb. 16-20 (a USTA national boys/girls age 18 tourney).

Neal of Keystone Ventures said tennis is a long-term part of HCC planning. After the initial short-term contract, he hopes to work out a deal for about two more years.

Neal is receiving advice and aid from an outside company, which he said he would identify in coming weeks.

Keystone's long-term plans for the HCC campus are being developed. Besides new tennis courts, those plans tentatively include a hotel, a restaurant, a sports medicine facility, and other improvements aimed at workforce training to meet HCC’s educational mandate. Meanwhile, HCC officials and Keystone are working on immediate details as part of the management change -- everything from insurance to vending machine contracts, said HCC attorney Koehler.

Representatives of the Hillsborough County Tennis Association worked behind the scenes and made public appearances in efforts to preserve the HCC complex.

Meanwhile, a "Save HCC Tennis" group led by veteran HCC player Ed Erickson gathered petition signatures, held meetings with HCC administrators, drafted a proposed budget for HCC tennis, and otherwise raised awareness to keep tennis alive there.

"There is so much enthusiasm for tennis now," said tennis association president Belmudez. "Independent studies show that tennis is growing much, much faster than any other sport in the U.S."

"We need to keep this terrific momentum going," said Belmudez. "It's wonderful that HCC will continue to play a major role in Florida tennis."

Ø USTA Florida Advocacy

 

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