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Louis Armstrong Stadium: December 2016 update

Tennis fans from across the globe had rave reviews about the enhancements at the 2016 US Open, but there’s even more still to come.

Spectators were greeted by the sight of a fully operational retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium this summer, as well as a beautiful new 8,000-seat Grandstand and 10 completely rebuilt field courts.

But over the next two years, the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will change once more as the final  stages of an ambitious six-year, $500-million transformation come to fruition.

At the conclusion of the 2016 US Open, construction crews began tearing down the old Louis Armstrong/Grandstand building, a relic from the 1964 World’s Fair when the former 18,000-seat arena was called the Singer Bowl.

In its place, a new 14,000-seat Louis Armstrong Stadium will open for the 2018 US Open (a rendering is shown above). This new stadium will also have a retractable roof, the largest of its kind among the No. 2 stadiums at the Grand Slams. On each side of the stadium there will be façades that are covered with terra cotta louvers, optimally positioned to keep rain out, yet porous to maintain natural ventilation. Designers say the terra cotta material contextually relates to the traditional brick buildings on the site while using the material in a new way.

For the 2017 tournament, while construction is still ongoing on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, a temporary 8,800-seat stadium will be built just outside the current ticket office and East Gate entrance, in what is now Parking Lot B, close to the boardwalk ramp to the subway and LIRR trains.

USOpen.org caught up with USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Chief Operating Officer Danny Zausner for an update on the project.

USOpen.org: What’s been happening on site over the past three months, since the end of the 2016 US Open?

Danny Zausner: Our biggest priority was to get ready for demolition to begin on Louis Armstrong Stadium. The days and weeks immediately following the Open were all about removing contents of 38 years of history from Louis Armstrong and the old Grandstand. We got a really good start on that before the Open even started. If it didn’t need to be utilized during the 2016 US Open, it came out of the building even before the event took place. Everything in there was just what we needed to get through the event.

USOpen.org: How long did it take before you could start taking down the stadium? And what happened to the remnants of the old Armstrong?

We had the building ready for demolition by the end of October and began demolition shortly thereafter. We've worked since then to be in a position to recycle the vast majority of the things being demolished and reuse a lot of the materials in the new construction. We’re about one-third of the way through the recycling and separating, and we’re hoping to separate the whole demolished zone in half so that we can begin driving piles into the first half of the construction site by the first of the new year.

All the metal, steel, aluminum, seats and hard materials are being recycled off site, and we’re trying to grind up and reuse as much of the materials as we can. We’re in the early stages and we have the next 18 months ahead of us, but we’re off to a great start.

USOpen.org: Did you save any items from the old stadium?

Zausner: We saved some seats and signs. We’re not going to put 20-year-old seats from 1998 back into a brand new stadium, but we have put some in the hands of people that would really appreciate the history behind them. We’ve wrapped some of the signs that have special significance, signs that might go back to 1998 or even ’78. Keep in mind the site was rebuilt in the 90s, so there’s very little besides the core of the structure itself that remained from ’78 by ’98. Most of what people saw when they were out here for the tournament this year besides the structure itself was less than 20 years old.

USOpen.org: What’s next on the timeline?

Zausner: Our goal is that by the 2017 Open we’ll have a decent percentage of the steel erected and up in the air. People will see the structure very much like how they saw the new Grandstand stadium at the 2015 US Open.

USOpen.org: What’s the biggest thing fans will see when they come to the 2017 US Open?

Zausner: For fans who have been out here for many years in the past, the one thing that’s always amazing is that when a structure is on site, you lose perspective of just how much land mass it is. When someone comes out this year and looks at the footprint of what was Louis Armstrong and Grandstand, they’ll be shocked at just how big it was. Most of what is in that area is behind the scenes, but you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s to come.

USOpen.org: Looking ahead to 2018, what are new highlights of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium that fans will be most excited about?

Zausner: People loved the intimacy of the old Armstrong, they loved the shade, they loved the history behind it. This new stadium will be in the same footprint of the old one, but it will have more shade than the old one and it will have a retractable roof on it so if and when we get rain, much like in Ashe now, fans sitting in their seats will be guaranteed continuation of play, fans watching on TV will be able to continue watching and players on the court will continue playing.

The USTA did amazing things with the old Armstrong to make it a great tennis venue, but it still had bathrooms designed for 1964. This new stadium will have ample supply of bathrooms and concession stands and cool merchandise upgrades to the site. The retail presence along the south side of the building will be enhanced from what it was in the past for our partners. There’s more open space and better viewing angles. Very similar to people’s very positive response to the new Grandstand, I think this stadium will follow suit will the same type of positive responses.

USOpen.org: When the new Grandstand opened, it was described as being intimate like the old Grandstand but with modern amenities. Is this a similar situation, just on a bigger scale?

Zausner: Very much so. That has really been one of the biggest features for us. Even with the roof, it couldn’t just be about this monstrosity that opened and closed, it also had to be architecturally significant and look like it belonged. It has to be something that will harken back to what fans liked about the old Armstrong, but give them something new and improved. That was the design intent with Grandstand and it was well received, and Armstrong will do the same thing exact thing. Seats will be very close to the action and shade is paramount from the fans’ perspective and I think that’s exactly what they’re going to see.

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