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U.S. Open Tennis to Have Roofs Over Two Stadiums by 2018 Event

U.S. Tennis Open Seeks Muni Investors for Ashe Retractable Roof
An artistic rendition of the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium. Source: USTA via Bloomberg

The U.S. Open will have roofs over two stadiums within five years, with one over its biggest venue possibly ready for the 2016 tennis championship.

The Teflon-coated retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium is the central element of a $550 million renovation of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York.

The roof over Ashe will cost more than $100 million, the U.S. Tennis Association said. A new 15,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium also will have a roof by 2018 at the latest, the USTA said.

The decision to cover Ashe Stadium comes after bad weather caused scheduling delays at the season’s final Grand Slam tournament the past five years, and brings the U.S. Open in line with the sport’s other three major championships, which all have covered stadiums or plans to build them.

“We have been working toward a viable design for a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium for more than a decade,” USTA Chairman Dave Haggerty said at a news conference. “Through a long and arduous process, we feel that we now have a design that meets the criteria of being architecturally sound, aesthetically pleasing, reasonably affordable, and buildable.”

The USTA said the project will be completed in three phases and won’t disrupt the tournament, which this year is scheduled to run from Aug. 26 through Sept. 9. The renovation will be paid for through a combination of bond funding and tournament revenue, USTA Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith said, adding that admission prices won’t rise as a result.

“We’re not going to pay for this on the backs of our ticket holders,” he said. The expansion will increase attendance at day sessions to 50,000 from about 40,000, the USTA said.

While the USTA’s financing model doesn’t include the sale of naming rights at Arthur Ashe Stadium as a necessity, the organization is “not excluding the possibility,” Smith said.

Construction Plans

Construction will begin after this year’s U.S. Open.

The roof over Ashe, the largest tennis venue in the world that holds about 22,500 fans, is scheduled to be completed by August of 2017, though organizers said it could be in place by the 2016 tournament.

Other parts of the renovation include the construction of a new Armstrong Stadium with a retractable roof, and a new 8,000-seat Grandstand Stadium, which will be shifted to the northeast corner of the facility from the southwest to better distribute fan traffic. Several field courts will also be moved to create a wider pedestrian walkway, allowing for a new food court, merchandise locations, sponsor booths and other fan amenities.

The roof at Ashe will be made of a lightweight, flexible, translucent Teflon-covered fabric stretched over a steel frame and supported by eight steel columns surrounding the venue. It will open or close in five-to-seven minutes.

Roof Features

The material lets in diffused light that causes no shadows on the courts and has at least a 30-year lifespan. The stadium will have a gutter system that’s 24 feet wide and six feet deep to handle rainwater spilling off the roof, designers said.

The men’s championship match at the U.S. Open has been pushed to Monday for the past five years because of weather delays after 21 years of on-time finishes. When finished, the roof will only be closed in bad weather, organizers said.

‘We want this to be known as an outdoor tournament,’’ Smith said. “We’re only going to close it if it’s raining or absolutely going to rain.

Wimbledon’s Centre Court has had a retractable roof over the only major played on grass since 2009. The Australian Open has roofs over its two main courts and is considering a third. The French Open, the lone clay-court major, has plans to put a roof on its main stadium.

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